The night sky isn't what it used to be. The U.S. alone spends $11 billion each year on unnecessary outdoor lighting and in many regions throughout the world stars and other heavenly phenomena have faded from view. A growing awareness, however, of this "light pollution" has led groups, such as the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), to fight to preserve natural skies.
"A dark sky experience goes hand-in-hand with the sense of 'getting away from it all'" says Dr. John Barentine, who manages IDA's International Dark Sky Places program. "It means getting as far away from cities as possible." The program accredits places worldwide as International Dark Sky Reserves or Parks, based on their night sky viewing quality along with local efforts to maintain pristineness. National parks offer a good compromise, as they "have built-in tourism infrastructures that also make them readily accessible," says Barentine.
When stargazing, bring water, blankets, chairs, and a just-in-case flashlight, but don't lug a telescope into the wilderness. "Eyes alone are sufficient to sample much of the phenomena revealed by dark skies: the Milky Way, shooting stars, faint satellites crisscrossing the skies," he says. Here, then, are some of the best places in the world for looking up at night.
NamibRand International Dark Sky Reserve
Combine a safari with stargazing at this reserve in the southern African nation of Namibia, among the most sparsely populated countries on Earth. Barentine says the site is "perhaps the darkest location IDA has ever designated." The skies above the reserve's 770 square miles of land, he added, are "as close to 'natural' darkness as one can obtain in the world."
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