The map of the best places for stargazing

The map of the best places for stargazing

Light pollution robs us of the beauty of the night sky. Here is a series of places in Italy and around the world where we can appreciate it in all its splendor

The Milky Way immortalized by the La Silla observatory of the European Southern Observatory. Photo: Eso / F. Char Light pollution is one of the largest and most neglected astronomical and cultural plagues of our times. On the mainland there are very few places in the world where it is still possible to admire the night sky in its entirety. According to the World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness published in 2016, about 80% of the world population does not have access to a real night sky. In Europe and the United States this percentage reaches 99%, with very small exceptions in Norway, Sweden and Austria.

A multifaceted problem

Pollution bright is not a problem for astronomy enthusiasts alone, but an interdisciplinary threat. It is an environmental problem because it disturbs ecosystems and nocturnal flora and fauna. It is a medical problem because it disturbs the sleep and wake cycles. It is an energy problem because any light that shines when not needed or more than needed is a waste of energy. But light pollution is also a dramatic deprivation of an essential part of ourselves, of our history and our culture: we have always loved the night sky and we are inspired by its beauty in art, music, literature and religion. . But without the darkness, this "muse" fails.

And it is perhaps precisely for this reason that more and more often we feel the need to do what is called "astronomical tourism", a way to rediscover that contact with the night sky that we have deprived ourselves of but which we manage to give up. To choose where to do it, an online tool comes in handy, the light pollution map, an interactive map built from satellite data on the brightness of the sky. A numerical datum that allows to easily quantify the problem, and that is reported by the map for each point of the globe, is the Sky quality meter (Sqm), a value that indicates the diffused brightness per sky area. The higher this value, the darker the sky.

The light pollution map of the whole world. Image:

The best places to observe the night sky in Italy

From the map it immediately catches the eye that in Italy there are no places completely free of light pollution. As dark as you think the sky is, it never is as dark as it would be in the absence of artificial light sources. But there is no doubt that some places are better and others worse from this point of view. In the areas of large cities (Rome, Milan, Naples) and the entire Po Valley the stars visible at night can literally be counted on one hand, but there are some places where the situation is much better and which still allow you to observe the sky night and the Milky Way.

The light pollution map for Italy. Image: The primacy of clearing the sky belongs to the small islands. Alicudi and Filicudi, in the Aeolian Islands, and Montecristo, in the Tuscan Archipelago, are the places where light pollution is lowest. Even in the Sardinian hinterland there are large areas where the sky is still quite dark. Moving around the peninsula, the best places from which to observe the sky are in the Tuscan Maremma and in some areas of the Alps, on the border between Alto-Adige and Austria and between Piedmont and France.

And in the world ?

By widening the horizon to the whole world, the chances of finding dark skies increase. The rule is simple: the less populated an area, the better the night sky. For this reason, the most suitable places are found in deserts and in the most extreme regions, where there are few inhabited centers. For example in the Australian hinterland, in many areas of Africa and South America, in Greenland and Alaska. In Asia the areas of the Gobi desert and Tibet, Mongolia and most of Siberia are saved. The International Dark Sky Association, a US non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the night environment, certifies as Dark Sky Places the places in the world where the sky is better and where there is a strong will to keep it that way. . In 2020 there are about 130 places certified in this way. In Italy something similar is done by Astronomitaly, an astrotourism development project which, among other things, offers certification The most beautiful skies in Italy.

The Milky Way in the Sahara Desert. Photo: Dominik Angstwurm, CC3.0 license A solution to the problem of light pollution

We light up when it's not needed, too much and badly. And every year we do worse and worse, with a frightening growth rate of 2.2% per year. As if this were not enough, LED lights, despite being valuable allies in energy saving, are often cold and emit at more harmful light frequencies for pollution than the old sodium lighting. On the other hand, it is not only the power of the individual lights that is the crux of the matter, but also the total number of bulbs we turn on. To reduce light pollution, it is therefore necessary to reduce not only the power of public and private lighting, but also to impose limits on the total brightness and on the frequencies to be used, choosing to illuminate only when and where it is really necessary. But to do this, you need an awareness of the problem and the political will to solve it.

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