If there’s one thing humans across the globe have been doing since time immemorial, it’s looking up at the dark night sky and feeling awe. The movements of celestial bodies in the heavens have filled us with both curiosity and a sense of beauty, sometimes coupled with insignificance and loneliness. Gazing up at the stars can be a humbling, mystifying experience and the southern hemisphere is actually better situated to gaze into our home galaxy, the Milky Way. These 7 destinations provide some of the best stargazing experiences in the southern half of the globe:
Wiruna isn’t an International Dark-Sky Association-certified site, but it is an area in New South Wales that has been specifically designated for stargazers. Since 1993, in May of each year, astronomers of all stripes, from professionals to amateurs, gather here amid the eucalyptus to celebrate the South Pacific Star Party. The Astronomical Society of New South Wales owns the land and provides observation facilities, as well as accommodations for stargazers from around the world. Wiruna is near Ilford, about 220 kilometers northwest of Sydney. The area is considered one of the premier stargazing sites in Australia and, indeed, the world over. Although the ASNSW does hold some open nights, Wiruna is generally open only to ASNSW members, members of other astronomical societies and their guests. The society also has an observatory nearby, where they hold some of their public open nights.
Cape Town, South Africa, is the home of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). Founded in 1972 and operated by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the SAAO has a number of telescopes and serves as a link for global scientific and technological collaboration. The primary telescopes, including the South African Large Telescope (SALT), are located at the Sutherland site, some 370 kilometers from the Cape Town site. While the SAAO may seem like it’s too technical for amateur astronomers, it hosts open nights throughout the year when visitors can talk to scientists. Open nights are held twice monthly, on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, beginning at 8 p.m. Guided tours through the facility’s museums are also available. Here, you can see the Crux constellation and in April 2015, the SAAO discovered the first comet in South Africa in 35 years.
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