Astronomy For Dummies
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The International Dark-Sky Association confers the designation of International Dark Sky Park on public lands with good starry skies and limited or very low interference from artificial lighting. A dark sky park may or may not have telescopes of its own, but it's a place you can visit for a good view of the sky and to set up your own portable telescope.

Here are dark sky parks worth your visit in the United States:

  • Natural Bridges National Monument: This dark sky park in Utah claims that at night a bridge "forms a window into a sky filled with thousands of stars bright enough to cast a shadow."
  • Big Bend National Park: This dark sky park is in Texas, on the Rio Grande.
  • Geauga County Observatory Park: This Ohio park is furnished with telescopes and weather and seismic stations.
  • Cherry Springs State Park: The Susquehannock State Forest in Pennsylvania hosts this dark sky park, often the site of star parties.
  • Clayton Lake State Park: Watch the New Mexico night sky at Lake Observatory or attend sky talks by astronomers.
  • Goldendale Observatory State Park: This dark sky park in Washington State features an observatory, tours, and stargazing.
  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park: View the night sky along the Straits of Mackinac, in northern Michigan.
  • Stephen C. Foster State Park: This Georgia attraction gives you entrée to the Okefenokee Swamp with its famous black water, but it has black skies too, recognized by designation as an International Dark Sky Park. The website suggests that you "Join a ranger-guided paddle in a canoe or kayak while the sun sets over the Okefenokee." There's a fee and limited space in each boat.
In Europe, consider exploring these dark sky parks:
  • Galloway Forest Park: This dark sky location is the largest forest park in Scotland.
  • Sark Dark Sky Community: In the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy, Sark has no public street lights and no motor vehicles but farm tractors.
  • Exmoor National Park: Located in the southwest of England, this park was the first designated International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe.
  • Hortobágy National Park: This dark sky park in Hungary is situated in a landscape little altered since the last Ice Age.
  • Lauwersmeer National Park: Built on land reclaimed from the sea in the Netherlands, Lauwersmeer is a relatively dark area in a very light-polluted country.
In the Southern Hemisphere, you can visit Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. This huge reserve on New Zealand's South Island extends over more than 1,600 square miles.

When you enjoy an international dark sky park, you'll recognize that "lights out" is a good thing.

About This Article

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Stephen P. Maran, PhD, is the retired assistant director of space sciences for information and outreach at the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center. An investigator of stars, nebulae, and comets, he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Shuttle missions, Skylab, and other NASA projects.

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