Sites of ce­les­tial in­ter­est

There are hun­dreds of astro tourism des­ti­na­tions around the world. Here are the best known

Sky at Night Magazine - - ASTRO TOURISM -

Both Aus­tralia and New Zealand need no in­tro­duc­tion as al­lur­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions with their beau­ti­ful coast­lines and spec­tac­u­lar scenery. But for we as­tronomers they’re also the per­fect places from which to ex­plore the mag­nif­i­cent south­ern hemi­sphere sky. In­deed, the most sparsely populated re­gions in both coun­tries – such as the Aus­tralian Out­back and the re­mote moun­tain­ous ar­eas of New Zealand – are among the best lo­ca­tions in the world to stargaze, full stop.

The Arc­tic land­scapes of north­ern Fin­land, Nor­way and Sweden are stun­ning to be­hold, but it’s the pos­si­bil­ity of catch­ing sight of the ethe­real North­ern Lights danc­ing across the skies that draws many UK as­tronomers to this beau­ti­ful re­gion in win­ter. For ex­am­ple, there are fre­quent flights from Lon­don to Tromsø in north­ern Nor­way, and from there you can book guided night ex­cur­sions away from the city in search of the aurora (which, sadly, can never be guar­an­teed to ap­pear).

The south­west­ern US states of Ari­zona and New Mexico, along with Cal­i­for­nia on the west coast, boast some breath­tak­ing sights and scenery, from the ma­jes­tic Grand Canyon to iconic lo­ca­tions, such as Yosemite Na­tional Park and Joshua Tree Na­tional Park. But these states are also where you’ll find fa­mously dark night skies too. In fact, the re­gion in­cludes a high den­sity of In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Places recog­nised by the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion.

There are few places that spark the imag­i­na­tion and ex­cite­ment of as­tronomers and a strop ho tog rap hers around the world more than Namibia in south­west Africa. Just look at the pic­tures taken by astro im­agers there and you’ll im­me­di­ately un­der­stand why; not only does its lo­ca­tion pro­vide a per­fect view of the south­ern night sky, but the coun­try also pos­sesses ex­traor­di­nar­ily dark night skies, es­pe­cially at sites near the beau­ti­ful Namib Desert. Sit­ting off the coast of north­west Africa, the spec­tac­u­lar vol­canic is­lands of La Palma and Tener­ife are syn­ony­mous in Euro­pean astron­omy cir­cles with pris­tine dark skies. Both is­lands are home to pro­fes­sional ob­ser­va­to­ries – the Wil­liam Her­schel Tele­scope, the Isaac New­ton Tele­scope and the enor­mous Gran Te­le­sco­pio Ca­narias be­ing just a few of the world-fa­mous re­search fa­cil­i­ties that are sited on La Palma – that are oc­ca­sion­ally open for day­time vis­its. (See page 72 for more.)

Chile, in South Amer­ica, is an­other pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion fa­mous with as­tronomers for its clear, dark night skies. Many of the world’s most pow­er­ful re­search tele­scopes are sited in re­mote re­gions of the coun­try, in­clud­ing ESO’s Very Large Tele­scope (VLT) ar­ray, which sits atop a moun­tain at the Paranal Ob­ser­va­tory, and the Ata­cama Large Mil­lime­ter/Submillime­ter Ar­ray (ALMA), which is lo­cated in the Ata­cama Desert, far up in the north of Chile, close to the bor­der with Bo­livia.

With azure wa­ters lap­ping its beaches, abun­dant sun­shine, stun­ning ar­chi­tec­ture, de­li­cious cui­sine and cu­ri­ous al­co­holic bev­er­ages, Greece of­fers some of the most en­tic­ing places to hol­i­day in all of Europe. If you can get away from the lights of the towns and cities, the coun­try – and es­pe­cially some of the Greek is­lands – can also be a great place to stargaze. The is­land of Crete, for ex­am­ple, is home to a pro­fes­sional ob­ser­va­tory that oc­ca­sion­ally runs public open days.

Be­ing only a few hours away by air, Ice­land, in the North At­lantic, is a favourite des­ti­na­tion for UK and Euro­pean stargazers hop­ing for a sight­ing of the North­ern Lights. Ice­land sits in the re­gion known as the ‘auro­ral zone’, where dis­plays of aurora can fre­quently be seen, which im­proves your odds of wit­ness­ing a dis­play. If the skies are cloudy when you’re there you’ll still be able to en­joy ex­plor­ing the is­land’s spec­tac­u­lar vol­canic land­scape, enor­mous glaciers and tow­er­ing wa­ter­falls.

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