The stunning Super Moon made an appearance this weekend, bringing the idea of 'astro tourism' to my mind. As a traveler I naturally find myself asking, "Where is the best place to go to view future astro events?"
Few people have heard of Kanarraville, Utah. Located in the southwest corner of the state it’s home to just over 350 residents. During the third weekend in May, however, the town is expecting an influx of an estimated 5,000 visitors; more than the town has ever seen. These ‘astro tourists’ will congregate in Kanarraville to witness the May 20th solar eclipse, using some of the clearest and darkest skies in the world as a backdrop.
While Kanarraville may not have much to offer tourists outside of the few hours during the eclipse, those who make the trek will be rewarded with a chance to visit nearby Brice Canyon, Zion or even Grand Canyon National Parks. Herein lies the beauty of astro tourism for most mainstream travelers-- the opportunity to combine amazing destinations with the experience of an unforgettable celestial event.
Don’t worry if a trip to Utah isn’t on the top of your travel list, the schedule and location of the upcoming celestial events provides travelers numerous options for more exotic locations:
The Transit of Venus: June 5th and 6th – Similar to a solar eclipse but, despite being significantly larger than our moon, Venus’ distance from the earth makes it appear as merely a small black dot as it crosses in front of the sun. In the last 600 years, this event has only occurred ten times and will not happen again for another 105 years, making this a truly once in a lifetime experience. While the beginning of the six hour event will be visible in North America, and the end visible in Europe, to witness the entire spectacle Hawaii, the South Pacific or Australia are your best destinations. Tour operator Travel Quest International is actually planning a weeklong trip to Tahiti around the event.
Solar Eclipse: November 13th – To witness this near total eclipse (the sun will be 98% covered by the moon), in its entirety, you will need to make you way to the northern Australian island of Norfolk via the city of Cairns. While it will be partially visible as far south as Christchurch, New Zealand, and as far east as Central Chile, the islands of Fiji and Paupa, New Guinea will likely be the most exotic destinations to plan trips around.
Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights: Each year in March or September – for a more geographically reliable celestial event, travelers will want to head north. While the southernmost parts of the world are home to the Aurora Australis, the accessibility of the Aurora Borealis from locations across Alaska, Northern Canada, Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia, make it a much more popular draw. Named in 1621, by French Astronomer Pierre Gassendi, after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the Greek word for the northern wind (Boreas) the phenomenon actually occurs year round, but the tilt of the earth as well as the weather conditions make spring and fall the most ideal times to visit. For a real adventure make the trip to Greenland to see the Aurora Borealis and stay for some of the best heli-skiing in the world.
And, if none of these dates work out for you in 2012, don’t worry, you can start planning your November 2013 trip to Kenya or Ethiopia and be there in time to catch the next full solar eclipse.
Does anyone have experience on trips like these or further astro tourism recommendations?