16 Amazing Dark Sky Preserves Around the World That Protect the Night Sky

 In Regions, France, P5

Like many aspects of planet Earth, our view of the night sky suf­fers from pol­lu­tion effects. Emissions from indus­try along with stray light from out­door lamps makes it dif­fi­cult for people in many regions to enjoy the starry view to its fullest.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is work­ing to pre­serve the night sky for its cul­tur­al and sci­en­tif­ic value, and to do that it has worked with coun­tries to create dark sky pre­serves around the world. Here’s a look at those 16 cer­ti­fied inter­na­tion­al dark sky reserves and where they are.

Alpes Azur Mercantour (France)

Mountain peaks on a starry night background in Mercantour National Park, France (Image credit: Getty)

The gentle cli­mate and renowned bio­di­ver­si­ty in Mercantour National Park in France makes it a pop­u­lar dark sky pre­serve among astron­o­my enthu­si­asts, according to the IDA. One of the first moun­tain obser­va­to­ries, Mont Mounier was estab­lished here at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. In between gazing at the stars, you can enjoy the moun­tain views and close prox­im­i­ty to the coast.

Learn more about Mercantour National Park

Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand)

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the 1908s, local offi­cials began to more aggres­sive­ly con­trol out­door light­ing in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand, not only to pro­tect the sky, but also to con­serve energy and pro­tect wildlife, according to the IDA. The Māori, who are indige­nous res­i­dents in this region, use the night sky for nav­i­ga­tion and also have a wealth of astron­o­my and star cul­tur­al lore that is cul­tur­al­ly impor­tant. Helping to keep the sky unpol­lut­ed the Māori is there­fore one of the rea­sons IDA is glad to pre­serve this area’s dark skies.

Learn more about the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales)

Vibrant Milky Way over landscape of medieval castle ruins at Brecon Beacons National Park, in Wales. (Image credit: Getty)

Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales is so iso­lat­ed that sheep out­num­ber people 30 to 1, according to IDA. Nevertheless, the com­mu­ni­ty of rough­ly 33,000 res­i­dents has been work­ing hard to make 100 per­cent of their light­ing con­ducive to pre­serv­ing the dark skies. It’s a big win for astron­o­my enthu­si­asts, as there used to be a lot of light­ing that washed out astron­o­my views, accord­ing to the IDA.

Learn more about Brecon Beacons National Park.

Central Idaho (United States)

Stanley Lake in Stanley, Idaho, with the Milky Way in the background. (Image credit: Getty)

If you’re look­ing for a wilder­ness expe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to what our ances­tors had, Stanley Lake in cen­tral Idaho is one of the few places that not only is lack­ing in elec­tric­i­ty, but also mobile phone ser­vice, IDA says. The rugged ter­rain in the region has made it dif­fi­cult to put in infrastructure,which has left  behind some truly dark skies for vis­i­tors. During the day, there are also oppor­tu­ni­ties for hiking, back­pack­ing and horse­back riding.

Learn more about Central Idaho dark sky preserve.

Cévennes National Park (France)

 A starry sky over Pise Lake in Cévennes, France. (Image credit: Getty)

While much of France has urban­ized over the cen­turies, Cévennes remains unique­ly sparse thanks to the moun­tain­ous ter­rain in this region. There is no lack of people — some 71,000 inhab­i­tants within 250 vil­lages — but the region is mostly made up of farm­land, with nearby activ­i­ties includ­ing moun­tain biking, fish­ing, hiking and spelunk­ing (cave explor­ing). Local author­i­ties have also done their best to pre­serve the sky views, IDA says.

Learn more about the Cévennes National Park dark sky preserve.

Cranborne Chase (England)

Cranborne Chase Knowlton Church in Dorset, U.K. (Image credit: Julian Elliott/Getty)

The newly des­ig­nat­ed dark sky pre­serve of Cranborne Chase in Dorset, U.K. fea­tures a (from 2019) chalk for­ma­tion, sharp hills and numer­ous clays and grav­els, IDA says. The inter­est­ing land­scape adds to the beauty of the night sky, which is pre­served between the coun­ties Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Adjacent to this reserve is Salisbury Plain, home to the famous Stonehenge mon­u­ment.

Learn more about the Cranborne Chase dark sky preserve.

Exmoor National Park (England)

Starry nightscape over Exmoor National Park Mountain Landscape in Devon, U.K. (Image credit: Arthur Cauty/Shutterstock)

If you’re look­ing for a dark sky reserve within a short drive of urban cen­ters, Exmoor National Park in Devon, U.K. offers excep­tion­al skies and acces­si­bil­i­ty at the same time. History buffs can also visit Bronze Age burial mounds or a desert­ed medieval set­tle­ment in the region, IDA says.

Learn more about the Exmoor National Park.

Kerry (Ireland)

Star trails in the Dark Sky Reserve, over Valentia Island, County Kerry, Ireland. (Image credit: Stephen Power/Alamy)

If you’re taken aback by the dark sky views in County Kerry, a barren region in Ireland, know that you are not alone. Neolithic inhab­i­tants of the region built stone mon­u­ments nearly 6,000 years ago to keep track of the sun, moon and stars, and some of the Ogham-lan­guage inscrip­tions in the region might describe celes­tial obser­va­tions, the IDA says.

Learn more about Ireland's Kerry dark sky preserve.

Mont-Mégantic (Québec)

Mont-Mégantic's astronomical observatory. (Image credit: Alamy)

Mont-Mégantic, which is near the large city of Sherbrooke in Quebec, has some unique fea­tures to it for vis­i­tors, includ­ing an obser­va­to­ry. The 34 munic­i­pal­i­ties in this region have agreed to out­door light­ing reg­u­la­tions to con­trol the spread of light pol­lu­tion, which IDA says would be a good model for other inter­est­ed urban areas who wish to follow suit.

Learn more about Mont-Mégantic dark sky preserve.

Moore’s Reserve (South Downs, England)

The Milky Way over the landscape of the Seven Sisters cliffs in South Downs National Park, on the English coast. (Image credit: Getty)

“It is remark­able that any rel­a­tive­ly dark areas remain between London and the south coast of England,” IDA says about South Downs National Park on the English coast, which lies only 60 miles (100 km) from the greater London area. 

The park has been able to keep its dark skies even with 108,000 res­i­dents and a highly urban­ized center within a rea­son­able dri­ving dis­tance. In fact, nearly 10 mil­lion people live within a two-hour dri­ving dis­tance of this park. The dark sky reserve has been named the Moore’s Reserve in honor of local astronomer Sir Patrick Moore (1923−2012) to honor his con­tri­bu­tions to the field.

Learn about the South Downs National Park Moore's reserve here.

NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia)

A camping site at the NamibRand Nature Reserve. (Image credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty)

The NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia rep­re­sents one of the largest pri­vate nature reserves on the con­ti­nent. While also pro­vid­ing a shel­ter for the local ecol­o­gy and wildlife, the reserve’s man­date has more recent­ly expand­ed to include pro­tect­ing the night skies. Schoolchildren are among the vis­i­tors who com­mon­ly sleep in “open air” units to see the sky over­head, IDA says.

Pic du Midi (France)

The Pic du Midi observatory at night. (Image credit: Christophe Lehenaff/Getty)

The Pic du Midi, a pop­u­lar moun­tain­ous reserve in the French Pyrenees, attracts rough­ly 1.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors per year, large­ly on the back of its IDA des­ig­na­tion as a dark-sky zone, IDA says. (The zone also encom­pass­es a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site and a French nation­al park.) The nearby University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour is cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing sci­en­tif­ic study of the sky to best pre­serve it for future gen­er­a­tions.

Rhön (Germany)

The Rhön Mountains is one of the few spots in Germany where it is easy to capture the Milky Way in an image.  (Image credit: Boris Jordan/Getty)

The Rhön Mountains in Germany, or the “land of end­less hori­zons” as the moun­tain­ous region is often called, is sand­wiched between the pop­u­lous states of Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia. The core zone has some more pop­u­lat­ed regions sur­round­ing the area, which work to make sure their out­door light­ing does­n’t inter­fere with the pris­tine night views, according to IDA.

River Murray (Australia)

Milky Way over the Murray River in Victoria, Australia. (Image credit: John White/Getty)

The Murray River reserve in Victoria, Australia was orig­i­nal­ly put into place to pro­tect the endan­gered south­ern hairy-nosed wombat, but astron­o­my was added into the area’s man­date (in part) to rec­og­nize that the core region is excep­tion­al­ly dark, IDA says. Local reg­u­la­tions restrict devel­op­ment in the park to struc­tures that will assist with con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment, and only a “few rough tracks” rep­re­sent avail­able facil­i­ties within the park bound­aries.

Snowdonia National Park (Wales)

The Milky Way over the countryside around Llyn Ogwen in Snowdonia National Park (Image credit: Matt Gibson/Getty)

This moun­tain­ous region Snowdonia National Park in Wales has,  tra­di­tion­al­ly, had few humans settle within its bound­aries. This has allowed us modern-day people the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence the dark skies, IDA says. What also makes this site inter­est­ing is its sheer size, with 810 square miles (2100 square kilo­me­ters) sprawl­ing across about a tenth of the land area of Wales.

Westhavelland (Germany)

Westhavelland is one of the darkest zones in highly populated Germany. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Just 45 miles (70 km) from Berlin, Westhavelland, a dark sky reserve in Germany, fea­tures a sparse pop­u­la­tion, stun­ning wet­land and a beau­ti­ful night sky on clear nights. Local offi­cials are work­ing to push their “astro­tourism” efforts with public out­reach, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­gram and an annual WestHavelländer AstroTreff star party, IDA says.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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