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Are you an astronomy geek? Looking for some places to visit to get your astronomy fix? Then you might want to check out any of these amazing travel destinations that are just the right fit for astronomers.
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Where in the world is the best place to see stars?
There are various superb locations around the world to get a clear view of the night sky. But one of the best places is the Namib Desert in South Africa.
"The Namib Desert is perfectly flat, which grants astronomers a 360 degree view of the sky. Located far from any human habitation, the desert has no light pollution at all. As such the Namib Desert skies are among the darkest in the Earth and so the best for watching the stars in the night" - World Atlas.
Can you visit Mauna Kea Observatory?
The Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii is one of the best observatories in the world. It sits at an amazing height of 13,769 feet (almost 4,200 meters) above sea level on Hawaii's Big Island.
The site offers pristine stargazing conditions and is arguably one of the best places for staring at the cosmos in the world. Tours are indeed available at the summit facility, but officials recommend that most visit the Visitor's Center before heading up to the summit.
This is because weather conditions can be quite variable, plus you'll need to acclimatize to the altitude. Stargazing and star tours are available every night of the year between 6 pm and 10 pm.
They provide telescopes for amateur astronomers but you are free to bring your own too. These tours are completely free and you don't need to make a reservation.
Where is the best night sky?
According to sites like roughguides.com, some of the best stargazing spots in the world include, but are not limited to:
- Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK.
- Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand.
- Death Valley National Park, USA.
- Pic du Midi, France.
- Atacama Desert, Chile.
- Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
- Sark, Channel Islands.
- NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia.
What are the best travel destinations for astronomy geeks?
So, without further ado, here are 7 amazing travel destinations we have compiled for every self-proclaimed astronomy geek. Trust us when we say this list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. The Very Large Array, Socorro, New Mexico, USA
The Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico is one of the best tourist destinations for astronomy geeks. For anyone who is also a fan of the film "Contact", they are sure to recognize this site immediately.
This enormous radio telescope facility is located roughly 50 miles (just over 80 km) west of Socorro and is a truly breathtaking place to visit. It is open for a self-guided tour every day, starting from 8:30 am until sunset.
On the first Saturday of every month, the facility also holds guided tours at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm. You don't need to book ahead for these tours and each one runs for about half an hour.
2. Cerro Paranal Observatory, Atacama Desert, Chile
The Cerro Paranal Observatory in Chile is yet another astronomy-based tourist attraction you need to add to your list. Located in the Atacama Desert, the site offers some of the most ideal stargazing conditions in the world.
Its dry weather, generally cloudless skies, high altitude, and lack of light pollution are simply perfect for staring at the heavens. One of the best spots can be found at the Cerro Paranal observatory that is located, funnily enough, on top of mount Cerro Paranal.
The facility is operated by the European Southern Observatory and it is home to The Very Large Telescope. This is a grouping of four 320-inch (813 cm) diameter telescopes that offer almost unparalleled views of the cosmos.
The facility offers guided tours which are actually free each and every Saturday. However, tours tend to have limited vacancy so be sure to book ahead.
3. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, UK
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London is another must-see astronomy-geek tourist destination. It is home to the Prime Meridian and has a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation.
The site that the observatory now resides once housed other important buildings in British history. This included Greenwich Castle (once the residence of King William 1).
The observatory and planetarium feature a great museum that offers a variety of interesting exhibits. This includes, but is not limited to, historical navigation techniques and London's only planetarium.
4. Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, USA
The Kitt Peak National Observatory is yet another amazing place to visit if you are an astronomy geek. Located in the American Southwest, the Kitt Peak National Observatory is in a perfect stargazing spot.
It is just Southwest of Tucson, Arizona, and the observatory is home to the largest collection of optical telescopes in the U.S. The facility offers guided tours daily that are at 10 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.
You can also partake in nightly stargazing activities at the observatory too if you want to get the most out of your visit.
5. South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland, South Africa
The South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa is another facility you need to add to your astronomy world tour list. Standing on the ground and about 6,000 feet (1,829 m) above sea level, the SAAO is famed for its pristine sky conditions.
The area also benefits from minimal air pollution and light pollution too. It is located about 230 miles (370 km) inland from the South Atlantic Ocean and it has been in operation since the 1970s.
It offers guided tours but you must call ahead to book a place. Each day it runs two tours that are either fully guided for about $3.70 or self-guided ones for about $2.80. Night tours are also available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
During night tours, visitors get to peer through the facilities 14-inch and 16-inch telescopes. All facility research telescopes are strictly off-limits, however.
6. Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory, Florence, Italy
The Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Florence, Italy is yet another place to visit if you love astronomy. Located in the hills of the Arcetri region of Florence, this observatory is built in the same place that the great Galileo spent the last years of his life.
It doesn't have the stupendously large telescopes like other facilities on our list, but it is of enormous historical importance for the field of astronomy.
Day visits are restricted to student groups but nighttime visits are possible for casual tourists. The observatory is open to the general public on Saturday evenings, but admissions are limited to groups of 35 visitors at a time.
Otherwise, you are free to visit the grounds around the observatory anytime you'd like.
7. Hayden Planetarium, New York City, USA
And last, but by no means least, is the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. While the city is not ideal for stargazing per se, the planetarium makes up for that with its unique IMAX Space Show and exhibits.
Tickets for admission can only be bought from the American Museum of Natural History for $23, though tickets for students, children, and the elderly are cheaper. This includes the cost of admission to the American Museum of Natural History too.