“People have been looking at the night sky, telling stories, for the entirety of recorded human history. But when we moved into cities, we lost that deep connection with the universe.” Steve Owens, astronomer
One of the most fascinating sights on Earth should be the night sky – the brightest stars from the billions in our Milky Way, the streak of meteors, planetary neighbours such as Venus and Jupiter, the glow of other galaxies such as Andromeda.
Many of us enjoy stars not only for their beauty but for their purpose. Thousands of years ago people believe they could see shapes among the stars, they identified both animals and people, and each had its own story and nowadays we still do it. Stars are the most plentiful objects in the visible universe.
Many believe that night sky is a time machine, in fact so is archeology.
The young science of archaeoastronomy studies archaeological sites in relation to the sky, whereas ancient stargazers used celestial figures and the movements of the sun and moon to keep track of time for their ritual and agricultural purposes. Some of the iconic ancient observing places such as Stonehenge, Chichen Itza are either closed for visitors at night or under vanished urban skies. However there are places remain where we can explore ancient sites and the night sky.
1 – Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
The Chacoan people were intimately aware of all their surroundings. They were close observers of the skies and seasonal cycles, and their observations gave them the invaluable ability to time their agricultural and ceremonial events, which were central to their survival. Today, Puebloan descendants carry on many of these same traditions.
Visitors are drawn to the park to learn about the monumental Chacoan sites, to view the pecked and painted images on canyon walls, to observe scattered pieces of pottery, and to ponder the greatness of the Chacoan world. It is natural to wish for a connection with the people who flourished in this stark and challenging place. The night sky, so clear and brilliant at Chaco Canyon, is a special connection that we all share, as we look to the skies to better understand our place on earth.
Chaco’s night sky programs are generally offered from April through October on Friday, and Saturday nights.
2 – Almendres Cromlech, Portugal
One of the largest stone circles in Europe, dating from the sixth millennium B.C., is near the World Heritage town of Evora, as well as the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve area. The cromlech, or circle of monoliths, has almost a hundred granite menhirs, some with carved drawings and small indentations. A four-meter-tall single monolith is isolated almost a mile to the northeast and may be aligned with the cromlech for a solstice sunrise or sunset. The cromlech of Xerez in Monsaraz is also nearby.
3 – Meteora, Greece
The Meteora (literally “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”) is formation of immense monolithic pillars and hills like huge rounded boulders which dominate the local area. Located near Kalambáka, it’s an amazing place to appreciate the stars as they have been viewed by thousands of monks who have lived here since the 11th century.
4 – Sibiloi National Park, Kenya
Located on the wild and rugged shores of Lake Turkana – the cradle of mankind – Sibiloi is home to important archaeological sites including Koobi Fora where the fossil remains have contributed more to the understanding of human evolution than any other site in the continent. The area is characterized by semi-desert habitat and open plains flanked by volcanic formations which makes it perfect spot to enjoy night sky.
5 – Easter Island, Chile
It’s only extreme adventurers who venture to Easter Island. In this mysterious setting, you’ll feel the true magic after dark, when the sky comes alive with a million blazing stars that watch over the statues until sunrise.
6 – Alamut Castle, Iran
Alamut (meaning “eagle’s nest” from Persian) was a mountain fortress located in Alamut region Iran, today, it lies in ruins, but because of its historical significance, it is being developed by the Iranian government as a tourist destination. The castle had a unique library that lured many scholars, including Tusi, considered the world’s greatest astronomer of the time, to Persia during the Mongol invasion. The sky of Alamut is still as starry as when Tusi explored it in the 13th century.
7 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park, Australia
Near the center of Australia, the country’s most recognizable landform—and the most sacred to Aboriginal culture—Uluru (or Ayers Rock) is home to ancient rock art with stories about the creation of the land and skies. With no light pollution in the Australian outback, park visitors enjoy the stunning southern sky. There are stargazing programs at the campground/resort.
8 – Owens Valley, California
California’s High Desert is a great place for stargazing: the cities tend to be small and far apart, and there are plenty of places where a casual sky watcher can just pull over to the side of the road and look up at amazingly dark skies.
The many petroglyph sites near Bishop, on the volcanic tablelands between the White Mountains and the Sierras, are like an open-air museum, under an ocean of stars in a moonless night. The Native American rock art includes many puzzling icons; some are considered hunting magic and some are related to the sky.