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I'd like to see the Milky Way. There is a lot of light pollution in the area I live in (a value of around 6 on the Bortle scale). I can see a few stars at night, but not the Milky Way. I understand the Milky Way becomes visible at a value of 4 on the Bortle scale, but I would really like to see it clearly, so I am looking for a place with a value of 3 or lower.

I've looked on http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html but most decent-looking spot appears to be in inaccessible areas, like Eifel National Park which is closed at night.

Where in Europe can I clearly see the Milky Way with the following restrictions:

  • Within a day's trip from Antwerp (say up to 8 hours by car or plane+drive and the next day to get back).
  • Accessible without a visa for EU-citizens.
  • Maximum brightness of 3, preferably 2 or even 1 on the Bortle scale.
  • Accessible. I'd like to go there by car or regular public transport. I'm willing to walk up to 10 km if needed. No special gear needed to get there.
  • Accessible at night. If this site is in a park, the park should be open at night (seasonal opening hours are fine, one time a year is not).
  • Not crazy expensive or to access (think private plane or boat).
  • Optionally: an event that creates a dark site where I can see the Milky Way, like all lights out in a city.

enter image description here Photo by Greg

  • Judging by your own map any of the Baltic states would work. Fly, rent a car, drive to the forest, and you're done. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 16 '17 at 19:10
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    I saw the milky way many times in not so remote areas. Get away from big cities (say 30km) and from villages (1km should be enough), and if the sky is clear you should be fine. Of course, it's more impressive in darker skies. – ugoren Oct 16 '17 at 19:36
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    I had "success" on the Azores (wasn't looking for it, just suddenly understood why it's called "milky way"). However, I'm not sure it fits your first bullet point - you can get there within a day, but not back - and I have no idea about the Bortle scale... This was in a "city", the view is certainly even better driving to some remote place on the island. – Sabine Oct 16 '17 at 19:37
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    Where did you read that the eifel park is closed at night? There are activities and office times on the day, yes. But you can also visit the Sternpark ("Star park") at night: nationalpark-eifel.de/go/eifel/german/Willkommen/…. And in general, you don't need to enter the park, the eifel region is quite dark all-over. Personally, I'd recommend Teide on Teneriffe, but I guess that's out of range. – sweber Oct 16 '17 at 20:20
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    Just a further addition. If you want to enjoy watching the stars, make sure it's not full moon. New moon would be ideal. Either that, or wait till the moon goes down the horizon. Would be a pity to travel for a couple of hours only to be staring at the moon all night (although the moon has its charms ;)) – Freek Sanders Oct 17 '17 at 10:19
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Galloway Forest Park is the UK’s first Dark Sky Park.

I understand the BBC wanted to make a feature film there, but when the crew discovered there were no facilities in the style they were accustomed to, they never did. Perhaps that remoteness would suit you.

You can fly to Glasgow and take a trip from there.

Almost by definition, most easily accessed places will be well populated and have massive light pollution in the sky.

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    I would be interested to know why the anonymous downvoter hit this. The site is accessible by aeroplane and car hire from Antwerp, within the conditions mentioned in the question. – Weather Vane Oct 16 '17 at 21:34
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    I've done a bit more research on this one. It certainly looks promising. Quite accessible by airplane (flight to Glasgow from Eindhoven) and rental car at Glasgow Airport. – Belle-Sophie Oct 17 '17 at 8:03
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    @WeatherVane He(she) hates Scots/Scotland/UK. The cockerel in your profile. Loads of reasons. – DumbCoder Oct 17 '17 at 10:17
  • @DumbCoder I have never liked the downvoting system. Without it if you like a question or answer you can upvote it. If you don't like, you can ignore or make a comment. I suppose this has already been discussed on meta. – Weather Vane Oct 17 '17 at 20:11
8

One of the best astronomical sites in the world: Pic du Midi Observatory in the Pyrenees mountains.

enter image description here (photo from official website)

Tourists are welcomed up there and you can spend a night at the summit (€399 for a double room, including diner and guided star observation).

Toulouse airport is at two hours drive.

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    Worth noting that they only do the guided viewings in French. – Notts90 Oct 17 '17 at 13:59
5

Naturpark Westhavelland

enter image description here

Despite being only 70 km from Berlin away, it is one of the darkest places in Middle Europe, equaling even Namibia with 21,78 mag/arcsec². It was considered a Star Park by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) at 2014. Even airglow and polar light observation is possible.

German website: http://www.sternenpark-havelland.de/

4

Going by the map you provided, Vlieland seems to be a good option. It's not too far from Antwerp and about as dark (according to your map) as Galloway Forest Park mentioned in the accepted answer.

1

The further north, the better your chances. Given where you live, Scandinavia would be the best bet in my opinion. You want to be further from a city, ideally. Winter gives you enhanced opportunities to see it, due to the longer nights up north (at the expense of the temperatures being colder). You want some place with a good probability of clear skies.

Also understand that the aurora can be fickle. You can go weeks or months without seeing it in some places, and then have it several days in a row. The more flexible your travel plans are, the better chances you have to see them.

I live in prairie Canada at latitude 50.5 north. I see them off to the north several times a year, but I have seen them directly overhead only three or four times. (One has to be available, and one has to know they're visible.) When they're really good we drive a half an hour out of the city toward the north (so that the northern sky is darker) onto the prairie, where we have clear seeing in all directions.

Because the magnetic pole affects the location of aurora, at a given latitude, you're more likely to see them in in western and central North America than in Europe, but the same latitudes in Europe are much more populated and easier to traverse.

EDIT: To see the Milky Way, it's a lot easier. You just need a very dark sky (and ideally a clear view in all directions). Much of the same advice as for the aurora will work, but the northern destinations appeal more for the long nights and the distance from city lights than for other reasons. I'd recommend trying to do both at once - it would be fun!

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    I think he's asking about the Milky Way and you're answering about Aurora Borealis. – ugoren Oct 16 '17 at 19:39
  • Oops, I am! Brain cramp. – Jim MacKenzie Oct 16 '17 at 20:48
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    Plus, the brightest region of the milky-way is over the southern hemisphere, so, the more north you are, the less you see. (though the eifel is on the same latitude as your location) – sweber Oct 17 '17 at 8:08
  • Also think that the milky way is mostly parallel to the equator, so the more north, the more difficult it will be to see even with a clear sky. – Itai Oct 17 '17 at 14:42
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    @Itai The plane of the milky way isn't parallel to the celestial or the Earth's equator, actually. It extends as far north in the sky as Cygnus. The brightest parts of the Milky Way are near Sagittarius, which is best viewed from nearer the equator, but I live at 50.5 N and if you get somewhere dark with clear views of the horizon in all directions, it's possible to see the Milky Way go horizon to horizon. It's spectacular if it's truly dark and clear where you're viewing it. – Jim MacKenzie Oct 17 '17 at 16:20

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