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The Stars Above, the Road Below

Today, a Google news search for “lunar eclipse” brings up over 3,200 results. A search for “Tron?” Only 1,200.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the celestial has reached celebrity status. From the annual Perseid meteor showers to the nearly centennial appearance of Halley’s Comet, astronomical events always have a way of capturing headlines. It’s the beauty of it. The wildness. The sense of something massive looming behind the stars. And you can experience it at any time, if you just know where to look.

The Northern Lights
Cruise to Alaska in March or September and you may catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. This famous meteorological display is caused by oxygen and nitrogen emissions in the earth’s upper atmosphere, and usually appears as a green or red light in the sky. The aurora can also be viewed in places like Norway, Iceland, and Finland.

Northern Lights

The Earth’s Magnetic Center
Chile’s Elqui Valley marks the center of the earth’s magnetic field, as well as one of the best spots for stargazing in the world. Camp out in a geodesic dome and watch night unfurl over the arid Chilean desert, read some Mistral on your way to Vicuna, or even watch for U.F.O.s–Elqui is the site of many of Chile’s supposed sightings.

Elqui Valley Geodesic Domes

Stargazing in Mauna Kea
Want to see the stars without leaving the states? You might be surprised to learn that Hawaii is one of your best bets for constellation-hunting. Book a trip to the top of Mauna Kea Peak and visit the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy–one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Don’t forget your parka!

Mauna Kea Stargazing

R is for Rocket
Stargazing isn’t the only way to fuel a passion for astronomy. Check out NASA’s shuttle and rocket launch schedule for 2011 and start planning your trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Many launches are public (and free!), which means that all you have to do is get there early, grab a good spot, and wait for the countdown.

Shuttle Launch at Night

A Window Seat in Space
If you’re a woman (or man) of action, sometimes even a rocket launch doesn’t inspire enough adrenaline. Luckily for you, Virgin is launching its very own shuttle to the stars–Virgin Galactic. Seats on this spacefaring ship start at $200,000 a piece. Other companies offering private space travel opportunities include Space Adventures, SpaceX, and Astrium.

View from Space

Have a favorite stargazing spot of your own? Share it in the comments!

 

Image Credits (Top to Bottom): “Lunar Eclipse” by Bill Striffler;”Northern Lights” by Image Editor; “Noche en Elqui” by VisitChile.com; “Mauna Kea… White Mountain” by Rex Maximilian; “Space Shuttle Endeavour Lifts Off!” by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; “Galapagos Islands” by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Kate

My name: Kate Beall

How I earn my keep: Writing for Travelocity.

Best meal I've ever had: There are three: the mofongo at Jimmy'z Kitchen in South Beach, the lomito completo at Fuente Alemana in Santiago, and (for the sheer novelty factor) the cuy chactado in Arequipa, Peru.

First thing I do in a new place: Hit the shower. Anything more than an hour in transit gets me fantasizing about soap.

View that took my breath away: Seeing the endless stretch of the Sierras as I flew in to Reno/Tahoe for the first time. In the winter, it's an aching field of white all the way to the horizon, like a world wiped clean. Looking out at it gives you this unmatched feeling of eternity.

Most challenging travel moment: Sharing a pull-out couch in a cramped New York apartment. The heat wave of 2010 was in full, humid swing and the air conditioning was D.O.A. There was nothing to do but soak your clothes in the sink and hope to pass out before they dried. ...then wake up in an hour and do it all again.

Favorite way to get around: On foot. I'm still working on the motorcycle license.

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