Superb Spots To Watch The Stars At Night
This month, Tim Peake returns to Earth after his six-month space mission, but you don't have to travel that far to see the stars. We round-up the world’s best night sky locations…
ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
Deserts are famously good for stargazing, and one of the most charming of all is northern Chile’s Atacama. High altitude, an extremely dry climate and lack of environmental pollution mean conditions are near perfect for astronomy. San Pedro is the main tourist hub, where several boutique lodges have their own telescopes. Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa (www.altoatacama.com) has an observation deck, and also runs daytime excursions to the geysers of El Tatio and the extraordinary stone and sand formations of the Valley of the Moon. From £587pp (two sharing) on an all-inclusive basis.
Covering 1,482sq km, Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. Along with the Milky Way, it’s also possible to observe the Andromeda Galaxy from recommended Dark Sky Discovery Sites, such as Cawfields Quarry. The Kielder Observatory runs events throughout the year, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to go hunting alone. Visit www.visitnorthumberland.com/darkskies to download a Stargazing In The Park PDF listing the best viewing sites.
MOUNT COOK, NEW ZEALAND
Mount Cook, on the South Island, has some of the darkest skies in New Zealand, and the neighbouring Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the world’s largest gold-rated reserve. Stay in a choice of lodges or hostels, all at different budgets. Tours begin with a show in the Theatre Planetarium and continue outdoors at a special stargazing site, kitted out with state-of-the-art telescopes. If you’re lucky, and visiting at the right time, you may even witness the Southern Lights – the southern hemisphere’s version of the Northern Lights. Visit www.mtcooknz.com and www.newzealand.com for more information.
It’s best known as a beach destination, but the largest of the Canary Islands is also an astronomy hotspot. The Teide Observatory, 2,390m above sea level on Mount Teide, is home to some of the best solar telescopes in Europe. Guided tours are available to visitors, including the Sunset And Stars tour, which features a Canarian cocktail dinner at the cable car’s upper station, followed by a stargazing session with telescope (from £47pp at www.volcanoteide.com). From June 27-July 2, the Starmus Festival of science, art and music will take place, with guest speakers including Professor Stephen Hawking and Dr Brian May. Visit www.starmus.com
There are no officially designated dark sky spots on this Mediterranean island, but sparsely populated areas and little light pollution make it an ideal place to connect with the constellations. Ryan Air fly to northwest coastal town Alghero, and from there it’s just a 20-minute drive to limestone promontory Capo Caccia, where on a clear night, it’s possible to see the Milky Way. Alternatively, Intrepid offer an eight-day Sardinian Astronomy Adventure starting in Cagliari and visiting the Sardinian Radio Telescope, used to observe the night sky, and the observatory on Monte Armidda. The trip costs from £1,225pp, excluding flights.
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