Written by Brian Johnston
Since the dawn of time, humans have been captivated by the night sky and its twinkling invitation to wonderment and awe. Here are five top places from which to stargaze.
For stargazing with a touch of history, few places can beat Tuscany, where the great 17th-century astronomer Galileo invented the refracting telescope and trained it skywards, becoming the first human to view the Moon’s pitted surface, puzzling sunspots, and the moons of Jupiter. His telescopes and other instruments are displayed in the recently greatly expanded and re-launched Museo Galileo. Visit Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory beyond the city on guided evening visits for a look at the night sky, and in particular to gaze at the Moon, Jupiter, and Mars up close, as well as to glimpse cosmic rays.
Distance: 4,020 km
Flight Time: 6 hours
Frequency: 2 flights a day
Los Angeles, USA
True, smog and light interference seldom make cities ideal for stargazing, but cities often have easily accessible observatories providing wondrous sky-scapes when conditions are right. Los Angeles’ hilltop Griffith Observatory has telescopes that allow you to peer at the pitted lunar surface, Jupiter and Venus, and swirling nebulae. (This being Hollywood, the observatory made a notable appearance in the classic movie Rebel Without a Cause.) An adjacent planetarium with the world’s most advanced projector hosts thrilling shows about the known universe.
Los Angeles, USA
Distance: 13,366 km
Flight Time: 16 hours, 25 minutes
Galloway Forest Park, UK
The International Dark Sky Association gives this Scottish park the nod for its suitably black skies that allow dramatic views upwards. It’s claimed that 7,000 stars are visible to the naked eye, with helpful information boards at viewing areas aiding in identifying constellations. Many more stars are seen with simple hobby telescopes, while the stronger instruments of the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory provide an even better glimpse of the stellar landscape.
Distance: 5532 km
Flight Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 5 flights a week
Head north of the Arctic Circle near the remote meeting-point of the Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish borders and you’re guaranteed dark skies. That makes Kiruna not just a spectacle for its night-time Northern Lights or aurora borealis but for its stars too; a space centre here also launches rockets and stratospheric research balloons.
Distance: 4,585 km
Flight Time: 6 hours, 50 minutes
Flinders Ranges, Australia
You haven’t seen stars until you’ve been to outback Australia, where an absence of light interference allows for a dense display of vast, light-twinkled skies and a swathe of Milky Way that will leave you awestruck. The 800-million-year-old landscapes of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges are the perfect natural planetarium from which to enjoy the spectacle. Just camp out, lay back, look up, and admire.
Distance: 11,276 km
Flight Time: 12 hours, 55 minutes