At nighttime the heavens are filled with just some of the several billion stars in the observable universe. Due to artificial light sources you can only see a tiny fraction, especially in cities. Dark Sky Reserves are areas kept free of light pollution where you can examine the night sky in all its glory with the naked eye.
And you can get the best view of the stars in some of the darkest places in the world:
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Arizona determines which locations are chosen as light reserves. There is little or no light pollution caused by artificial sources in the Core Zones of these areas. Strict rules about light protection also apply to the buffer zones which surround the sites.
The “Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve” is one such setting. It is located on the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of Ireland. The reserve is unique because it is also an inhabited space. Not only will you find houses and hostels there but it is even has a chocolate factory.
This Dark Sky Reserve is found in the Mackenzie Basin on the southern island of New Zealand, and includes the Mount Cook National Park. The most popular destination for stargazers is Lake Tekapo, which is also the location of the Mount John University Observatory.
Here you’ll find the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, the most photographed church in New Zealand. The rather simple structure holds the title thanks to the breathtaking starry sky which surrounds it. All year round you can see the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, which can only be seen from the southern hemisphere.
Along with Ireland and New Zealand, the NamibRand Dark Sky Reserve has also been awarded gold status by the IDA. With almost total darkness, it offers the best possible view of the stars. The nature reserve is one of the largest private reserves in Africa and in addition to celestial wonders, you’ll also find zebras, leopards and giraffes.
With a little over two million inhabitants, Namibia is one of the least populated countries in the world. This means you can experience particularly clear nights because of the low light pollution, along with good weather and the very dry atmosphere.
Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. The highest temperature ever recorded, 56.7 degrees, was measured there in 1913 and the National Park also happens to be the world’s largest light reserve. This is thanks to both Death Valley’s natural darkness and the National Park Service’s actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting in the region.
However, the bright neon lights of the nearby Las Vegas represent a growing threat to the park.
There are several international Dark Sky Reserves in the UK including the Brecon Beacons National Park, Exmoor National Park, and South Downs National Park. Snowdonia National Park became the fourth UK site to be designated as a reserve following its efforts to protect the view of the night sky. The park was created in 1951 and covers 823 square miles. Among the best places to observe the stars are by the Llyn Geirionnydd and Llynnau Cregennen lakes.