COVID-19 has taken from us a great deal from us and with the onset of the second wave looming or rather practically here, we need to remind ourselves that we are allowed to take a moment to disconnect from the perils of our reality and literally go outside and look up at the stars in the night sky.
Mental health is something that we have all been talking about a lot since the lockdown began. Even those that would have considered themselves ‘fine’ before COVID-19, are likely to be suffering some sort of anxiety from it now. Globally, we are all dealing with challenging situations and heightened emotions and the gentle reminder it is ok to feel not ok all the time.
Perhaps stargazing allows for a greater perspective, that what we are witnessing all around is but a blip in the history of Earth and its inhabitants. Personally, for me knowing this actually helps to ground me, helps me to see things with a new light and helps me to remember that this too shall pass and we will persevere!
Astronomy has of course been around since the beginning of time. There are stars we see in the sky that have already perished but to us we still see them as their death has yet to reach us. There is a beauty in knowing that life has prevailed for centuries before us and will indeed again. Let us try to see this year as a blip on the radar of something bigger.
We know that the moon controls the tides of our seas and oceans. We know that we are fascinated with space and time and learning more about galaxies and our universe and the next. Astronomy is also linked to astrology and horoscopes are created by reading the alignment of the planets and gauging where they are in the solar system and what that means for us. I am for sure a fiery Leo Lioness, someone who likes to be the centre of attention, although, I also have Libra as my rising sign which makes me nurturing and empathetic. This blend of science and interpretation can allow us to see the world as a ball of energy. Let us not get disheartened by a virus and let us look to the future, practice gratitude and have hope that we have all learnt something from this global disaster.
We rounded up some stargazing spots for you – even if you can just remember to look up at the sky tonight from wherever you are in the world, it might help you to remember that together we can all get through this rough patch. So look up from your screens in your homes and take a minute to breathe, dream, practice gratitude and remember the beauty of life is all about experiences.
Should you want something to look forward to the below will also allow you to dream of when we can indeed travel again!
Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Isle of Wight has some of the darkest skies in the UK making it perfect for an astronomical night out. Undeniably, the best stargazing locations lie anywhere along the Military Road that runs along the south-west coast of the Island and is here that visitors will be able to see all the big players including Milky Way, Cassiopeia, Orion and the Plough. Those looking for the low down on stargazing tips on the Island should head to the Island Planetarium at Fort Victoria. Wightlink transports visitors to their stargazing adventure on the Isle of Wight with just a 45-minute ferry ride.
With its vast landscapes and minimal light pollution, Namibia boasts some of the darkest skies measured on earth, allowing visitors to look deep into the atmosphere almost every night of the year. One of the best places to witness the dazzling night sky is at the NamibRand Nature Reserve, the second place in the world to be awarded gold tier Dark Sky Reserve status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012. The NamibRand is home to exceptionally dark skies, with its nearest community lying 60 miles away, allowing a clear view of the Southern Cross and Scorpio constellations, amongst others. Although many lodges across Namibia take advantage of the dark sky and offer their own telescopes for guests, stargazing enthusiasts should visit Boulders Safari Camp – part of The Wolwedans Collection – where tents can open up to showcase the purest views of the sky. Wolwedans also offers the chance to escape the main camp on a two-night hiking trail where guests can sleep out under the stars.
The mountains of Trentino in northern Italy have been heralded as one of the best places to relish in nature and gaze up at the ‘Milky Way’, and in particular, the Val Di Sole valley offers a particularly clear view of the dark night sky. Surrounded by dense alpine scenery, visitors can rejuvenate in a cosy log cabin whilst absorbing the views above and around them. The village of Ossana has been given ‘the most beautiful skies in Italy’ Certificate of Quality by Astronomitaly. The certification is aimed at locations with a low percentage of light pollution and it is committed to the development of astronomical tourism in Italy. Trentino offers an ideal stargazing setting all year round, with warm Italian nights during the summer months and snow capped mountains during the winter months.
The mountainous northwestern state of Idaho has more designated wilderness than anywhere else in the continental USA, and the beauty doesn’t end when the sun goes down. The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, which includes the communities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Stanley, and the Sawtooth Mountains, was designated in December 2017 and is one of only 13 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, and the only one in the United States. Idaho’s low population base, coupled with its rural landscape and vast wilderness areas makes it easy to find dark skies. The reserve works with several organisations to offer stargazing events and educational astronomy programmes throughout the year. Adventurous travellers can also set up camp in the Dark Sky Reserve, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Bruneau Dunes State Park, or just about anywhere in Idaho’s rural areas, to marvel at the unbelievably brilliant, starry sky.
Astronomy enthusiasts visiting Mauritius can stargaze from the comfort of their air-conditioned bubble room at Bubble Lodge. The property consists of three luxurious, completely transparent and eco-friendly bubble rooms located on a tea plantation, where lush green jungles, a lake, and a mountainous landscape make the perfect backdrop for viewing the stars. The eco-friendly “dreaming bubbles”, created by French designer Pierre Stephane Dumashe, feature queen-sized beds, en suite bathrooms, outdoor showers and coffee makers, alongside other amenities. Each night an astronomer is on hand to help guests identify constellations and other night-sky phenomena such as Pegasus, Southern Cross, and the Milky Way, while the stargazing app, Skyview, assists with a private viewing throughout the night.
Unlike most cities, Scottsdale is optimal for stargazing year-round with its desert landscape, low light pollution and clear night skies. With Arizona being home to the International Dark-Sky Association, aiming to combat light pollution and raise awareness of the value of dark skies, Scottsdale offers incredible experiences for budding astronomers. Summer nights can be spent walking under the stars at Pinnacle Peak Park on a full moon hike or in a 4×4 vehicle, navigating through the pitch-black Sonoran Desert on a night-vision drive, ticking off unusual star patterns on their constellation chart along the way. Not to be missed by astronomy enthusiasts is a stay at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale. As the night draws in, resort guests can join a complimentary tour led by astrologist Richard Allen, often with sightings of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars depending on the time of year. Alternatively, guests can spot the stars from their own bedroom with state-of-the-art telescopes and constellation charts offered in every suite room. For something a little more romantic, couples can book onto a celestial picnic under the starry sky including cosy blankets, a constellation chart, telescope, photographer and personal butler for the evening.
The island of Vieques in Puerto Rico is fast becoming an ‘astrotourism’ hotspot. With two-thirds of the island designated as a protected nature reserve, the low light pollution makes Vieques perfect for stargazing. Visitors to Vieques can take a Bio Bay Tour of Mosquito Bay, one of the world’s five bioluminescent bays, where guides will highlight the constellations and planets. Three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays are located in Puerto Rico and of these, Mosquito Bay was officially declared the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world by Guinness Book of World Records in 2006. The mesmerizing brightness of the bay is due to the remote location and abundant concentration of dinoflagellates. Night tours take place when the Moon isn’t full to ensure the best conditions for seeing both the stars and waters glow as the night sky is reflected in the bioluminescent waters of the bay creating a truly spectacular natural light show.