The United States of America is home to some of the finest observatories and stargazing destinations. Professional and hobbyists alike gather in each state to seek out the great beyond and learn more about the mysteries in the night sky. When it comes to the backyard astronomer though, finding an area not filled with bright city lights and street lamps can be quite a challenge. Every day it seems a new building is added, another strip mall pops up, and new housing subdivisions encroach on what was once a clear landscape. With all these, come their bright lights. So where can one go to escape the urban landscape and find a home for as astronomy enthusiast? Taking a look at a light pollution map, such as the one found on lightpollutionmap,info, it is easy to see that the old west is still the least polluted area when it comes to the night sky. Looking at a map like that can help determine a good place to be to delve into the obsession. On the map, notice that many of the darker regions tend to offer more elevation and are mountainous. There are some states that have a special something to offer when it comes to astronomy. Here is a compilation of the best states to live in for the backyard astronomer.
One of very few eastern states to offer a good view of the night sky is Maine. The lower population in this beautiful state makes for less light use at night, which is ideal for the amateur astronomer. Also, Maine is home to the Acadia Night Sky Festival in the Acadia National Park; an eventful weekend of education and activities for astronomers of all expertise.
It may be surprising to see Pennsylvania on this list as it is surrounded by bustling cities and busy states like New York, but Pennsylvania has some of the darkest night skies that can be found toward the east coast. It is home to Cherry Springs State Park which was named “A Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA).
The varying elevation all throughout New Mexico makes for a wide range of opportunities to star gaze throughout the state. An endless list of cities that would be ideal to live in is what makes up the “Land of Enchantment.” There are multiple mountain ranges to choose from and very few cities that even show up on a light pollution map.
Home to four Dark Sky Parks, Utah is a great state for the backyard astronomer to take advantage of the access to these certified dark locations. The astronomy aficionado is sure to find prime real-estate to set up their telescopes in this state. While in this state, take a hike in the first park to be certified by the IDA, Natural Bridges National Park. Many have stated that the darkest skies in the world can be found at this park.
Well known for its scenic views and glorious mountains, Colorado is home to some of the most beautiful night sky views. Similar to New Mexico and surrounding states: where there is good elevation, there is a good chance to find a sparsely populated city with little to no light pollution.
Home of NASA and the McDonald Observatory, Texas naturally offers open, rural landscapes free from the interruption of city lights. West Texas’ rural landscape ensures distance from busy cities and an enjoyable view, not to mention the weather ranges from spring to summer all year long. Near central Texas are Horseshoe Bay and Dripping Springs which are Dark Sky communities. Communities such as these seek to educate others on the importance of the night sky and organize lighting ordinances to keep their skies dark.
Known for a brilliant landscapes and attractions like the Grand Canyon, Arizona is absolutely one of the greatest states for taking in the night sky. Arizona also has many Dark Sky Communities and Parks, proving that this state understands and appreciates the value of maintaining low light and astronomy friendly standards. With so many communities to choose from, there is a great possibility of living right next door to someone who shares the same hobby!