It’s harder than ever to find a patch of clear night sky these days in southern Ontario. More city lights means more light pollution and fewer chances to get wowed by the universe as it actually looks from planet Earth.
Head just twenty minutes north of Napanee, though, and you’ll track down one of those patches at the Dark Sky Viewing Area, which just happens to be the most southerly dark sky site in the province.
Astronomy expert Terence Dickinson, author of fourteen books on the subject, developed the site for two years before opening it in 2012. With a concrete pad that can fit about ten telescopes and a surrounding area with benches that’s also perfect for lawn chairs, it works for professional stargazers and naked-eye amateurs alike. It’s open from dusk until dawn every day.
“I moved here in 1976 knowing it was a location where you could access such a pristine night sky,” says Dickinson, who is also the editor of SkyNews magazine. It just made sense to try to make as many people aware of it as possible. “The question I get asked most, especially by people in bigger cities like Toronto or Ottawa, is where can I go to really see the stars. Now I can tell them.”
And because the viewing area is so far south, it’s only about a two and a half hour drive from Ontario’s two largest cities.
Yet even if your drive is longer, you won’t be disappointed when you get here. There’s the sky itself, of course, with the Milky Way somehow right there shining brighter than you ever imagined, but there’s the natural beauty of the site as well, which blends so easily with the sky and the land around it.
“We tried to create an environment that symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth, where infinity is expressed in the skies,” says Hans Honegger, who designed the site. “We had complete reverence for the natural terrain, finding a spot that is naturally open and unencumbered by trees and integrating the natural presence of the pre-cambium rock of this region into the design.”
That reverence shows, and the result is a viewing area that brings you closer to the stars than anywhere else around.
How To Make The Most Of Your Visit
As long as the night has fallen and there are few clouds in the sky, the views will be spectacular from the Dark Sky Viewing Area. But if you want to experience the site at its very best, following these tips provided by Terence Dickinson: 1. Choose an evening following a day with deep blue skies, which indicates low humidity and clear air. 2. As pretty as the moon is, choose a moonless or close to moonless night for dark sky viewing with lots of stars and views of the Milky Way. 3. Speaking of the Milky Way, the best times to see it are from 3 am to 5 am in May, 1 am to 3 am in June, 11 pm to 1 am in July, nightfall to 11:30 pm in August, and nightfall to 9:30 pm in September. 4. Bring binoculars or a telescope if you have one. A reclining lawn chair is an ideal accessory, along with warm clothing and a blanket. 5. It really is dark, so bring a small, dim flashlight to see where you’re walking.