We can’t deny that electricity was an incredibly important invention, but there are times when we can have too much of a good thing. Light pollution affects not only astronomers and scientists but also nocturnal animals and even the sleeping patterns of non-nocturnal beings (like humans!).
Enter the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit organization formed in 1988 aimed at “initiatives to protect the night skies and fragile ecosystems in parks and protected areas worldwide.” Twenty-three parks in the United States have been certified as Dark Sky Parks, here are a few that are perfect for stargazing:
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
In March of 2007, National Bridges became the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. The sheer number of visible stars will take your breath away.
Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
Death Valley is so named because it is the “lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America.” But it also has some of the darkest skies. Some say it shows what the Earth’s landscapes were prior to the rise of major cities.
Park rangers offer monthly sky-centric opportunities like guided stargazing events with astronomers. So, whether novice or not, you’ll be able to know if you’re looking at the Big or Little Dipper.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
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No sleeping during this beauty! Auroras aren’t just for Alaska anymore. Adding to our already otherworldly appearance, the northern lights are a special treat in South Dakota. (NPS/Julianna Ellis) . Your move @joshuatreenps @saguaronationalpark @yellowstonenps @deathvalleynps @kenaifjordsnps . #parkstarwars #badlandsnps #findyourpark #midwestnps #darkskies #midwestisbest #hifromsd #northernlights #aurora . [photo description: yellow, orange, and green auroras dance over the silhouetted badlands peaks.]
On any given night, a visitor to Badlands National Park can see over 7,000 stars, not to mention the star clusters, planets, and moons on display. It also boasts an unobstructed view of the Milky Way and is frequently flown over by the International Space Station.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
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Have you ever seen the Milky Way? Many people who live in urban areas never get to see it due to light and atmospheric pollution. When visible, the night sky seems to glitter endlessly with stars, planets, and meteors. Joshua Tree National Park is proud to be an International Dark Sky Park. You can view the stars from any paved pull-off in the park. Just remember to stay out of day-use only areas, and if you want to spend the night, you'll need to stay in a designated campground. Visit our website to learn more about camping options. Photo: NPS/Lian Law
The National Park Service site for Joshua Tree details which constellations are visible based on the time of year you plan to visit. But it’s not only stars that are on display. The Milky Way glitters best during the summer months, as is the Perseid Meteor Shower, while in the fall the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
In 2015, the International Dark-Sky Association recognized Canyonlands National Park as a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park. Its distance from urban areas and their artificial light make for some truly black skies, especially on moonless nights. But the park rangers have reduced the ambient light within the park by replacing lights and fixtures. More than 2,500 stars are viewable at any given time, many even without the aid of a telescope.