Hobby:

7 Spots To Thrill The Astro-tourist Within

BY: Sana Panjwani
From Scotland to right here in the UAE
To begin stargazing, all one has to do is look up to easily spy a stray star or two from most city spots in the UAE.

However, there is far more to see in the night sky than one might think – from eight other planets and an International Space Station to billions of stars and galaxies. You just have to find the right places.

Here are our seven picks of the best global destinations to travel to for stargazing:

GALLOWAY FOREST PARK, SCOTLAND

Known as the highlands of the lowlands, this 71-year-old park is the first area in the UK to be designated as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, back in 2009. It also scores an impressive 23.6 out of 25 on the Association's scale of darkness which means that you can see close to 7,000 stars glittering in the night sky, as well as the Andromeda Galaxy.

A hop over to the nearby Scottish Dark Sky Observatory for access to some powerful telescopes will also get you a glimpse of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Visit: gallowayforestpark.com

TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS

The golden rule of stargazing is to set up a spot in an area where there is little to no light pollution, and the island of Tenerife abides by this to the point of passing a law that controls fight paths to maintain the optimum stargazing environment.

The islands already feature some of the clearest and darkest skies due to their high altitude and proximity to the Equator, making it an excellent viewpoint for constellations. Enthusiasts should also head to the Teide Observatory for a tour or hop on a cable car up to Mount Teide for dinnertime stargazing.

FUN FACT: Just a quick 30-minute flight from Tenerife lies La Palma in the Canary Islands where, currently, the largest, ground-based telescope stands.

ZSELIC STARRY SKY PARK, HUNGARY

Arguably the best place in Europe to spot zodiacal lights – also known as false dawn – in spring and autumn, this park is nestled in a woodland protection area in southwestern Hungary. On clear nights, stargazers have a good chance of spying the Triangulum Galaxy with the naked eye as well.

Visit: zselic.csillagpark.hu

ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

High, dry and unpolluted, this stretch in Chile hits the stargazing trifecta which makes it unsurprising that a number of observatories have made it their home. Take a sky tour at any one of the observatories to get an outline of famous constellations like the Big Dipper, Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross. Looking through the telescopes, you can even spy a fuzzy look at Saturn, craters on the Moon, and stars 80,000 years away.

LAPLAND, FINLAND

The Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is probably already on your bucket list. It's visible roughly 200 nights a year and while it doesn't fall under the category of stars, it is a space phenomenon worth watching. The lights are actually collisions occurring between the electrically-charged particles from the Sun entering the Earth's atmosphere.

The more traditional ways of "light- watching" are to snowshoe, ski, snowmobile, or sled dog-tour your way to a good vantage point, however, the popularity of the Northern Lights have prompted businesses to offer 'sleeping under the night-sky' accommodations in the form of glass-roofed igloos.

NAMIBRAND NATURE RESERVE, NAMIBIA

It is the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the developing world and in Africa, as well as the second to achieve the Association's Gold Tier status (their highest). NamibRand offers visitors a chance to camp in the desert and enjoy guided tours of the dunes, the rhinos, and the sky. The closest village (and therefore light pollution) is around 95km away, allowing stargazers to enjoy views of the Milky Way as it stretches overhead with the Magellanic Clouds' – satellite galaxy in the Milky Way – bursting lights on its side.

Visit: namibrand.com

AL AIN DESERT, UAE

While the country's deserts are better known for their dune-bashing extravaganzas, they are just as good at hosting astro-enthusiasts, as the deeper you travel inward, the further you move away from the city lights. Stargazers have a good chance of spotting the galactic core of the Milky Way up until September, after which snippets can be caught until April rolls around bringing the galaxy's back in its full glory.

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