Stargazing in Chile: dark skies in the Atacama desert

Nowhere on Earth is better for stargazing than Chile’s Atacama desert, where super-observatories have opened up to a wave of astro-tourists seeking unpolluted skies

Midnight in the desert. With a group of eight, I am huddled around a telescope 150 times stronger than the naked eye, staring at the night sky. From a dazzling mass of stars, we zoom in on individual pricks of light: a single star, a double, a nebula, a cluster, even a galaxy. Heading outside and looking up, constellations emerge from the crowded heavens, sketched out to us by a powerful laser.

Dark sky reserves have sprouted up everywhere from Northumberland to Namibia. But for the ultimate stargazing experience, the Atacama desert in northern Chile has the clearest night skies on Earth. It is high, dry (one of the driest places in the world) and unpolluted. Several top-level observatories have set up home here, and tourists are hot on their tail.

Related: Rock of ages: Chile’s Quezala canyon

Related: The Brecon Beacons’ Dark Sky Reserve: five ways to see it

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