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.
Natural Bridges International Dark Sky Park, Utah, USA
Visitors can bask in an awe-inspiring view of the night sky transected by one of the three natural, rocky "land bridges" formed in canyons here by rushing water thousands of years ago. The 12 square-mile site is "exemplary of the darkness of the Colorado Plateau" and "one of the darkest locations in our system," says Barentine.
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