Light pollution in major metropolitan areas means your family is deprived of spotting constellations, planets and shooting stars. Often a glance skyward only rewards a would-be stargazer with the distinctive orange glow of streetlamps, building illumination and vehicle headlights. This winter, give you family an unparalleled peek at the heavens with a getaway to Scotland.
In Scotland you’ll find Europe’s largest expanses of dark skies, as well as the following attractions that’ll have amateur astronomers seeing stars (and more):
- The home of Europe’s second Dark Sky Park is Galloway Forest Park, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. Few people live in its 300 square miles of forest and hills, so nights are really black. More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye and you can usually spot the bright band of the Milky Way.
- The high-quality night skies above Tomintoul and Glenlivet in Moray earned the area the distinction of being Scotland’s second International Dark Sky Park. It’s the darkest park in the U.K. and the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world. (While there, whisky fans can tour and taste some drams at Glenlivet Distillery.
- Moffat, in Dumfries and Galloway, is Scotland’s Dark Sky Town, where thanks to “dark sky friendly” street lighting you can see an incredible amount of stars at night. It’s also home to The Famous Star Hotel, which, at 20 feet wide, earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest hotel in the world.
- The Isle of Coll, Scotland’s first Dark Sky Island and one of only two in the U.K. is located 20 miles from the nearest lamp post, and in winter you can even see the Northern Lights. (Scotland in general is a great to spot Aurora Borealis, as it lies in the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska.)
- Bonnybridge, the official UFO capital of Scotland, has more than 300 sightings every year.
- Brockloch Treehouse, an eco-retreat hidden in the bluebell forest at Castle Douglas in Dumfries & Galloway, is a cozy, romantic spot, where roof skylights let guests fall asleep while staring at the night sky. It’s off the grid with a small kitchen area, flushing toilet, small bath with skylight and log-burning stove.
In addition to Scotland’s Dark Skies, the country also boasts the following space-related claims to fame:
- Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, claims Langholm in Dumfries & Galloway as his ancestral home.
- Braemar in Aberdeenshire is the birthplace of Johann von Lamont, an astronomer and pioneer in geomagnetism, who calculated the mass of Uranus.
- Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders is the birthplace of 19th-century science writer Mary Somerville who theorized that difficulties in calculating the position of Uranus may point to an undiscovered planet, which inspired the discovery of Neptune.
- Parton in Dumfries & Galloway is the resting place of 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell, whose name was given to Maxwell Montes on Venus, the planet’s only feature named after a man. In 2012 the Highlands village Glenelg twinned itself with a geological feature on Mars, also called Glenelg.
- Loch Airigh on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides portrays the planet Jupiter in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick directed film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- There are craters on the moon and Mars named after Scottish scientists. Mee is a crater on the moon named after 19th-century astronomer Arthur Mee from Aberdeen. Sir David Gill, another Aberdeen astronomer, also has a crater named after him on Mars.
To learn more about why Scotland is out of this world, check out this website.
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