November/December 2022 Issue
Centuries ago, humankind relied on the night sky for telling time and tracking their routes. Darkness was essential for survival. “It’s how we found our place in the universe,” says Bettymaya Foott, engagement director at the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Today, envelopment in darkness is a rare opportunity: Nearly 80 percent of people in North America can’t spot the Milky Way’s marvelous hazy band on any given night. That’s due to light pollution, the spillage of unnecessary artificial light, a recent global phenomenon that has disconnected us from starry skies.
But there are still opportunities to reengage with the stars, moon, and faraway galaxies. Winter is considered prime season for stargazing, and if you catch a cloudless night you’ll find a brighter and clearer cosmos. Head to these nine astronomy hubs—planetariums, observatories, space centers, and IDA-protected nature areas perfect for stargazing—for a full astrotour of the West.
Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California
A San Francisco Bay Area landmark since 1883, the Chabot Space and Science Center is the largest observatory complex in the West available to the public for free. Explore the stars through three large telescopes housed in separate domes every Friday and Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. From its location 1,500 feet above the San Francisco Bay, the nighttime views—of both the sky and the city in the distance—are unobstructed. Peer into the largest refractor in the West that’s regularly open to the public, a 20-inch telescope named Rachel.
The science center sits just a few miles from downtown Oakland on the border of Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. The proximity to the forest allows the center to create programming that interacts with the redwoods, such as the monthly Hike & Sip, a moderate walk with constellation storytelling, snacks, and libations. Take the kids to the First Friday programs, which are planned around family friendly themes such as futuristic foods and mind tricks.
Nearby: In California’s Marin County, Mount Tamalpais State Park and the Mount Tam Astronomy program offered free astronomy nights on the mountain. Live programs are currently on pause, but virtual tours are hosted on YouTube.