Saturday, 3 March 2012 10:00 AM
Astro-tourism is on the rise and it's not hard to see why - there is nothing more magical and mysterious than the night's sky. From the deserts of northern Chile to the highest peak of Hawaii, here is Travelbite.co.uk's pick of the world's best spots for stargazing:
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
A picturesque oasis village - turned tourist hot spot - San Pedro de Atacama, located in northern Chile, is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. The Atacama Desert's crystal-clear skies and dry climate allows observers to view celestial wonders that are impossible to see in other parts of the world.
Few will forget the sight of some of the astronomical treasures of the southern hemisphere, such as the 'Southern Cross', which includes a cluster of sparkling young stars aptly named the 'Jewel Box'.
SPACE offers 'star tours' which are ideal for the amateur astronomer. The tour begins with a guide to the constellations of the southern hemisphere, visible to the naked eye; on a good night the entire zodiacal arc is able to be seen. The second part of the tour takes place in a large park of telescopes, where you can observe the moon (and even photograph it through the telescope), Mars and Saturn as well as a multitude of breathtaking nebulae.
For more information visit the SPACE website .
Sutherland, South Africa
Sutherland, known to locals as the "gateway to the universe", boasts the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere (SALT). The climate, reportedly the coldest in South Africa, combined with the minimal light pollution makes Sutherland a perfect location for stargazers and even without a telescope the sky is a sight to behold.
Take a tour to 'Africa's giant eye' and gain an insight into the mysterious and magical secrets of the universe or just lie back and marvel at the heavens.
There are tours and stargazing events almost every week of the year. For more information visit the Sutherland information website.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Known for its idyllic beaches and tropical beauty, Hawaii is also a haven for the stargazer. Perched high atop Mauna Kea - Hawaii's 'big island' - lies one of the world's most celebrated astronomical locations. At 2,600 metres above sea level, the air is clear and pollution-free - and the sky is a twinkling quilt of stars. Head up for the spectacular Hawaiian sunset, as dramatic as the night's sky, to add to the occasion.
You can also study the stars from sea level at the Imiloa Astronomy Centre in Hilo. Imiloa, meaning 'exploring new knowledge', befits the planetariums purpose - to highlight the relationship between the Hawaiian culture and the universe; including an IMAX-style movie presentation of the wonders of space.
Mauna Kea Summit Adventures offers stargazing tours, which includes a tour of the observatories, the use of the powerful portable telescopes and a guide throughout to help you explore and understand the sights.
For more information visit the Mauna Kea Summit Adventures website.
For more information on the Imiloa Astronomy Centre click here.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo, situated at the base of the southern Alps in the heart of New Zealand's south island, has the clearest skies in the country and stargazers flock to see the southern stars in all their pristine glory. Study the sky for satellites and iconic constellations, such as Canis Major, home to the brightest star in the sky -Sirius 'the dog star'.
The University of Canterbury operates the observatory atop Mt. John and a variety of tours are available with Earth & Sky. Join a day tour to explore the New Zealand's largest telescope or, even better, book yourself in for a 'dark sky tour' and enjoy navigating the southern stars with the help of a knowledgeable guide.
For more information visit the Earth & Sky website.
Tenerife, The Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are another astronomical hot spot - and as the locals like to say -"let the stars smile down on you". Their position in the northern latitude means that it is possible to see all the constellations of the northern hemisphere throughout the year.
Tenerife is home to the Tiede observatory, which boasts some of the largest solar telescopes in the world. Located at the summit of the dormant volcano Mt Tiede, standing at 2,390 metres above sea level, astronomers enjoy clear skies - thanks to the government's crackdown on light pollution.
Spot some of the northern hemisphere's well-known constellations, such as the plough and Orion's belt.
Take a cable car to the summit of Mt Tiede or join a stargazing tour. For more information visit the Canary Islands' information website.
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