For most of human history, the night sky was an essential part of our nature. Now most of humanity lives under bright domes of artificial skyglow from our cities, roads, or industrial activities. There is a new generation who have never seen a natural night sky.
Find Dark Skies
Stargazers and astrophotographers and many of my social media followers frequently ask me where to find a dark sky place to see the Milky Way, watch a meteor shower, or enjoy a new comet. These resources will help you to experience the unrivaled beauty of the natural night sky.
Light Pollution Map, look for dark blue or grey areas
Earth at Night Map, night-lights map of Earth by combining satellite data
Light Pollution layer for Google Earth, highly recommended, based on the World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness
Scope Nights App, (iOS) astronomy weather & dark sky map
Light Pollution Map App (iOS)
Designated Sites: protected national parks and the emerging astro-tourism demands help to reclaim the natural starry nights in a number of designated dark sky places by the non-profit International Dark Sky Association (IDA). The growing list of more than 200 sites includes many National Parks in the North America, Europe, and across the world. The European initiative Starlight Reserve, in relation to UNESCO, has also a growing list of designated places, most of them in Europe.
IDA Dark Sky Places portal & finder map
International Dark Sky places list
Starlight Reserves finder map
The World at Night book (chapters 5 & 6)
Non-designated Sites: Most suitable stargazing destinations are not designated since the dark sky protection activities have not started by the local community yet. High, dry, dark, and accessible sites are ideal places. These “dark spots” can be located on the World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness and Earth at Night satellite maps. See the links at top.
However the maps do not account the very effective altitude factor. Even close to metropolitan areas which appear very bright in the satellite images, if you find a rather spot elevated enough above the lights, the better air transparency and less atmosphere help to decrease the amount of scattered light pollution in the air known as the artificial skyglow. The narrow dark sky band of the Alps in Western Europe is a prominent example where starry sky is visible close to the valleys packed with lights from the towns and ski resorts. Mount Wilson & Mount Palomar observatories in the Southern California are other notable examples next to large cities.
Use Light Pollution layer for Google Earth and check both dark spots and the place altitude and accessibility, and how much it reaches above the nearby major light sources.
Many of favorite dark sky places are documented by The World at Night (TWAN) project team. See the images on twanight.org.
Top Astrotourism Destinations: In this online article for National Geographic, I listed my top favorite places in the world with natural night sky and existing ecotourism or cultural tourism has the basic infrastructure to protect the dark skies and welcome stargazers. The street lights in these areas are often changed to soft yellow lights which are shielded downward with no direct waste of energy towards to the sky nor to the horizon. In some of these places there are rural house and accommodations which are modified or totally designed for stargazing tourists. Tour operators in these areas are specialized in stargazing and astrophotography sessions and frequently take visitors from their accommodation to the observing sites to experience the sky both with unaided eyes and telescopes. Prominent examples which I have visited and collaborated with are:
Many of the National Parks in the US and Canada with stargazing programs
Atacama Desert and Elqui Valley in Chile
Canary Islands of Spain (specially La Palma)
Lake Tekapo in southern island of New Zealand
Alqueva Dark Sky in Portugal
Attend a Star Party: Out in nature, far from city lights, a diverse group of people of all ages, are gathered under stars to enjoy the beauty of night sky for a few nights and learn from invited speakers and day-time presentations. There are both rented cabins and personal tents. The site is filled with telescopes of all sizes and people are sharing the views of planets, galaxies, and nebulae. This is a typical night atmosphere of a major “star party“. Look for the astronomy association of your area and join them on one of these events. There are astronomy clubs in most countries and major cities around the world. The larger clubs usually have a permanent site and observatory available to all the members. In collaboration with local amateur astronomers there are also star parties and annual Dark Sky Festivals in the National Parks.
Many of the annual events in the US are listed by Sky&Telescope magazine.
The largest events in the US are Oregon Star Party (August), Texas Star Party (May), Winter Star Party (Florida in February), Stellafane Convention (Vermont in August, the longest running since 1926).
Join Me on a PhotoTour: Stargazing is not only about seeing outer space. It leads you a life of adventures. It becomes a lifestyle. You are out in nature when others enjoy parties, watch TV, or sleep. But like the explorers of new worlds you will be gifted by unique experiences to share with the rest of the world. I have several annual phototours that takes the group to some of the world’s best night sky photography sites. Most of these programs are also open to non-photographers and hobbyists who simply tend to experience and explore the night.
Iceland March & September PhotoTours (nature, culture, aurora, dark skies)
La Palma, Canary Islands workshop in May (stargazing paradise of Europe)
California Nightscapes workshops, August in the Sierras and December in Death Valley National Park, both during major meteor showers
Maine Stargazing Retreat in August
Save Our Dark Skies
Light pollution can be fixed. The night-time face of our planet has totally changed with our lights but this waste can be controlled far quicker than climate change or plastic waste. You can begin by sharing the concern and unheard impactful facts with your communities to lead them towards using sky-friendly lighting, warm yellow lights directed toward the ground and properly shielded.
You can join the global members of International Dark Sky Association, not only to support the non-profit that is the force behind preserving our last remaining dark skies, but also to receive the latest reliable information.
You can try to establish an International Dark Sky Place in your country or state by motivating the local authorities to expand the protection of a national park (or similar sites) to a dark sky place. Taking and sharing night sky photos from the place can initiate the movement.
Loss of the Night app, both for Android and iOS, is a citizen science project that involves you in a global effort to measure sky brightness, simply using your smartphone and eyesight at the stargazing location.
Learn the Facts
The feature online National Geographic article that I photographed, shares the story from various aspects. Light Pollution: Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price
The last two chapters of my book “The World at Night” shares information and images of the dark sky places and light pollution impacts.
More in-depth and latest academic articles are listed by light pollution scientist Chris Kyba.
See the major cities at night and the impact of white-blue LEDs through high-resolution images taken by astronauts onboard ISS: Cities at Night
Light Pollution Affects Environment and Wildlife
Light Pollution Affects Human Body
Light Pollution is Waste of Energy