To skip ahead:
For the past several decades, it has become increasingly more difficult to observe the night sky. Many of our generation have not witnessed the beauty of the summer Milky Way or the mystical dance of the Aurora Borealis. The vast majority of this problem, known as light pollution, is caused by the proliferation of poorly designed lighting fixtures and/or installations. Much information on how you can help bring back the stars is available in our Practical Guides and Information Sheets.
This page was set up to help stargazers, that reside in the continental United States, find the most suitable sites for enjoying the nighttime sky. The GIF image below is a model of light pollution based upon the 1990 US Census and Walker's Law. Use the Blue Marble Navigator to navigate a map of Earth at night.
A Brief Discussion on Limiting Magnitude
So now that you have found a site to observe from, what will you be able to see once you get there. Below we try to give a feel for what the nighttime sky looks like to the naked-eye as the limiting magnitude increases. Note that the descriptions deviate for high and dry locations. Here we use the Milky Way to refer to that part of the Milky Way from Cygnus through Sagittarius unless otherwise noted. Further information on what the night sky looks like in the absence of light pollution can be found in Information Sheet 111 or Information Sheet 120.
|Zenithal Limiting Magnitude||Sky Features|
|4.5 - 5.0||Milky Way and Zodiacal light invisible. Typical conditions found in suburbs of major cities. Passing clouds are easily seen due to being lighted up from surrounding lights.|
|5.1 - 5.5||The indistinct Milky Way faintly visible only near the zenith. Zodiacal light invisible. M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is barely discernible.|
|5.6 - 6.0||The Milky Way is now more easily seen, but lacks detail. M13, the Great Hercules globular star cluster can now be just glimpsed when near the zenith. The Zodiacal light is still invisible. The Milky Way from Auriga through Orion still invisible.|
|6.1 - 6.5||The Milky Way is now obvious and some detail can be glimpsed. The Zodiacal light is now barely visible, but not obvious. The Milky Way from Auriga through Orion is faintly visible. There is still noticeable skyglow along the horizon due to distant towns and cities.|
|6.6 - 7.0||Much structure is visible in the Milky Way. The Zodiacal light is an obvious cone of light. The major constellations are less obvious due to "noise" caused by the large number of faint stars now visible. Passing clouds appear as dark moving masses as they block the natural skyglow or the Milky Way. A few sources of skyglow are still visible.|
|7.1 +||Incredible! The Milky Way contains an enormous amount of structure all the way to the horizon and you can easily see your way around by it's light. The Zodiacal light now encircles the entire ecliptic. There are no sources of skyglow along any part of the horizon. Many meteors are visible.|
Already know where you want to observe?
The Clear Sky Chart shows, at a glance, the next 48 hours for a specific observing site in North America (over 3,500 currently listed). Designed by Attila Danko and supported by Allan Rahill and the Canadian Meteorological Centre's data, this Web site is a must for amateur astronomers or anyone wishing to do more than casual observing.
Visit the Clear Sky Chart at http://cleardarksky.com/csk/
Observation Hill at MucMurdo Station, Ross Island
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Saskatchewan
Eagle River Nature and Science Center, Eagle River
"for viewing the skies for the Northern Lights that we are so blessed to have all winter" - Aprils
"hard to get darker or better weather than that!" - Pat
between Denver, CO and Albuquerque, NM
"I'm from the Midwest, a suburb North of Detroit. One summer I found myself on a non-stop drive to L.A. While driving from Denver south to Albuquerque one night I happened to look our my side window and had to immediately pull over. I nearly fell on my back in shear awe. The Milky Way was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my lifetime. This was 35 years ago. EVERY child should have the opportunity" - James
"The darkest spot in upstate New York!!!"
"I never knew hos beautiful the Pleiades could be until I moved there and started actually using my telescope" - George
"I love sitting in the yard and watching satellites go by" - Leo
Highway 93, 25 miles south of Jackpot
"Naked eye viewing there was even better than from an 8 inch scope at our club's old dark sky site about 15 miles outside of Boise the following weekend. That image is burned into my brain and will be in my heart forever" - Barb
Cherohala Skyway - National Scenic Byway
Observatory Park, Geauga Park District
State and National Parks, Monuments, and Preserves:
Eklutna Lake, Chugach State Park, AK
Ft. Wilkins State Park, MI Upper Penninsula
Red Cloud Mine Road - southwest of Joshua Tree NP
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ (the campground specifically)
Yosemite National Park, CA (specifically Glacier Point)
The World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness (Cinzano, P., Falchi, F., Elvidge C.D.)