5 dark sites perfect for stargazing in the United States
By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
July 05, 2019, 1:58:45 AM EDT
A star-studded sky with the Milky Way in the background has become a rare scene across the country as a result of widespread light pollution.
However, there are still some areas far away from homes and highways that reveal the skies that our ancestors would see on a nightly basis before widespread light pollution.
Here are five places across the nation that are great for stargazers of all ages.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
The eastern United States is home to some of the largest cities in the country as well as millions of smaller towns and communities. As a result, light pollution has become a widespread issue across the region preventing many from seeing a dark night sky.
However, hidden in the vast wilderness of central Pennsylvania is Cherry Springs State Park, where the sky is the darkest east of the Mississippi River.
Cherry Springs State Park is a remote park located in the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, far away from any major towns or highways. It is also situated on top of a mountain, making it the ideal location for stargazing.
“Due to its exceptionally dark skies, Cherry Springs State Park is one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for stargazing and the science of astronomy,” the park said.
The park hosts several astronomy events throughout the year, giving people of all ages an opportunity to view the night sky, meteor showers or lunar eclipses without having to worry about light pollution hindering their view.
George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Virginia
Just a few hours south of Cherry Springs State Park is another, and even larger, area for viewing the night sky with limited light pollution.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forest is located in the mountains of Virginia near the border of West Virginia and consists of nearly 2 million acres of forest.
The combination of high elevation and the lack of intrusive city lights makes the forest a popular site for stargazers and astronomy groups although it may take some time to journey deep into the forest.
This vast wilderness is a much darker than the more popular Shenandoah National Park located just to the east of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
The neighboring Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia is also another prime location for stargazers and includes Spruce Knob, one of the highest mountain peaks in the region.
Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley is well known for being one of the hottest locations in the world, but a lesser known fact is that it is also home to some of the best night skies in the United States.
Once the sun goes down and the heat subsides, stargazers in the national park are treated to some of the darkest skies in the contiguous United States.
"Death Valley is a place to gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, follow a lunar eclipse, track a meteor shower or simply reflect on your place in the universe," National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.
Due to the hot, hazy and sometimes smoky summer air, winter is the best time to head to Death Valley to stargaze. Additionally, winter nights last longer, giving people a longer time to view the night sky.
Even though Death Valley is known to be hot, people headed to the park to stargaze in the winter months should still dress in warm clothes as temperatures often drop down into the 30s F with some nights even dropping below freezing.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Deep in the heart of Texas near the border of Mexico is Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote national parks that features nighttime scenes even better than that of Death Valley.
The 801,000-acre park is one of most remote and least-visited national parks in the United States, making it the perfect place for stargazers on a clear night.
“When the air quality is perfect and the air is still, crisp and clear, [Big Bend] is one of the darkest places in the lower 48,” David Elkowitz, chief of interpretation at Big Bend National Park, said.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to retrofit lightning in the park,” Elkowitz added. “We’ve gone with LED lightning out in the main visiting areas.”
LED lights give off less light pollution that regular incandescent lighting does, preserving the natural darkness of the night sky around the source of the light.
Goldendale Observatory State Park, Washington
The skies across Washington are not the darkest in the country, but a small town called Goldendale is a great location for stargazers to flock to when there’s an astronomical event.
The Goldendale Observatory, located in Goldendale, Washington, is home to one of the nation’s largest publicly accessable telescopes and is only a two-hour drive from Portland, Oregon, and three hours away from Seattle.
This means that millions of people across the Pacific Northwest are just a drive away from having access to the large 24.5-inch telescope.
With a telescope of this size, people peering into the eyepiece can easily see the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and galaxies that are millions of light years away in great detail.
The observatory holds many events throughout the year, giving people in the area plenty of opportunities to see the cosmos from a unique perspective.
— Clifton Wiens (@CliftonWiens) August 19, 2015
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