Take advantage of spring’s clearer skies by witnessing an absorbing star performance Hollywood would be proud of, says Oliver Wilkins
With artificial city light obscuring natural darkness, experiencing the full brilliance of a starry night sky is difficult to achieve on even the clearest of nights. But finding that prime location for surveying the majestic nightscape is easier than you think.
Across the country, there are still plenty of stargazing hotspots to showcase nature’s brilliant light show — depending on the time of year —from the icy depths of Alaska to the wild deserts of New Mexico. Hawaii enjoys near-perfect year-round conditions for gazing at the celestial skies, but in spring it’s the southwest US taking the lead in the interstellar performances.
Whether you’re a keen astronomer or a complete novice, thanks to the International Dark-Sky Association, and concerted efforts from state and national parks, learning more about what’s up there has never been so easy.
Take three: Stargazing hotspots
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: Clean, dry air and high elevation make Bryce Canyon one of the darkest places in North America. A spectacular 7,500 stars can typically be viewed here with the naked eye on the week leading up to, and of, the new moon. Bryce also holds an annual Astronomy Festival (17-20 June), providing a program of presentations, workshops and tours. nps.gov/brca
Mauna Kea, Hawaii: This dormant volcano, standing at almost 14,000ft, is widely regarded as the best stargazing spot on the planet. Due to its location in the Pacific Ocean, there’s virtually zero light pollution, allowing clear nights to reveal an array of stars, planets and galaxies. There are free stargazing programs held every night where use of telescopes and a tour of the night sky are led by experts and volunteers. ifa.hawaii.edu/mko
Death Valley National Park, California: Far enough away from major southwestern cities to provide an unobstructed view of the night sky, yet still close enough for a weekend visit by city dwellers, Death Valley is the largest and one of only three ‘Gold-Certified’ International Dark Sky Parks. During the winter and spring months, park rangers hold regular stargazing events through a variety of astronomy organizations. nps.gov/deva