There are plenty of grand things about living in a swarming metropolis (not that Madison is a metropolis, exactly, but we have more than one streetlight), but a washed-out night sky isn’t one of them. Sure, the brightest stars might shine through, giving the impression of a blank and empty universe. Take a trip a few dozen miles outside of town, though, and you’ll find a wondrous canopy where black nothing existed before. As experiences go, seeing a real starry sky isn’t an expensive one, and it’s worth doing every once in a while just to give you a reminder of how small we are in terms of the grand cosmos.
But if you’re looking to get the best of the best, the true cornucopia of night light, then here’s what I’d suggest (based on personal experience):
- A ship in the middle of the empty ocean – Going out into the middle of the ocean on a ship is going to get you a majestic viewing of the Milky Way, especially if that pesky Moon isn’t around to ruin things. Of course, you’ll have to make sure the ship is willing to shut off it’s lights for a bit, which can be a toss-up. Get that to happen, though, and you’re going to be in for a show.
- The top of Mauna Kea – On the big island of Hawaii, you’re able to get to the top of this volcano and hang out among some truly gigantic telescopes. It gets frigid up there at night, but there’s a reason the instruments are built up there – the clarity, aided by the majesty of being on a mountaintop, elevates you to a celestial experience. Bring a jacket, rent a jeep or join a tour, and head higher up than you thought you’d ever go on an island. Sidenote: Hawaii’s big island uses different lights for their streets designed to create less light pollution, so you’ll have better views of the sky just about anywhere on the island than you would back home.
- On a kayak in the middle of a quiet lagoon – The inspiration for this article and a honeymoon activity, we slapped our paddles through some crocodile waters and saw the Milky Way from a calm lagoon in the Yucatan. You’re so far from established civilization that the only sounds you’ll hear are the jungle and your own breathing. And above, all you’ll see are stars. Unlike the first two, this can be a uniquely personal experience – even in a tandem kayak, you have some space from those around you and can have your own reverie right there in the water.
- A frozen lake – Be sure the ice is thick enough, of course, and then take a slow walk out onto it, preferably in the absolute dead of night. You don’t want nearby campfires or lakefront parties spoiling the moment. Beneath your feet, under the ice, you’ll feel and hear the shifting, freezing water. It’s like a thunderstorm, only under you rather than overhead. Above, of course, you have the stars. It’s a combination that brings out a unique side of nature, that reminds you of all the forces going on constantly that you can’t control, which, depending on who you are, can be terrifying or (because you have to let go) a relief. Worth a try, anyway.