Whether you are a casual stargazer, an amateur, or a professional astronomer, the one thing you need more than anything else is a clear sky and minimal light pollution. Living in a big town or city makes it almost impossible to see the stars, let alone truly enjoy them.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers you a peaceful place to stargaze without the interference of light pollution. Once the crowds have gone for the day, the traffic dies down, most of the local wildlife have tucked themselves in for the night, and the park becomes an entirely different world.
There Is More Than Earthly Wildlife Here
You might think that once the sun goes down and the wildlife goes to bed, there isn’t much to see here. But this would be a huge mistake, as once the sun goes down, the light show in the sky starts. What could be better than laying back on a blanket and staring up constellations like Orion, or Ursa Major and Ursa Minor?
There are many fabulous spots in the Smokies from which to view the heavens but coming into the park through Townsend offers you the chance to hike to several of the most popular spots. The Newfound Gap Trailhead is a favorite spot for stargazers. The parking lot at the trailhead is 6,000 feet above sea level and has no street lights to ruin your night vision. One thing to keep in mind, at this altitude it can be chilly at night, especially if you come in the spring or fall.
Phases of the Moon
The full moon is so bright here in the Smokies that it blots out the stars in the sky. So, if you plan to come here to see the stars, the new moon is the best time to see them as it offers minimal light interference. This unobstructed view of the stars and lack of light make it possible for you to take photographs of the stars. Be sure you turn off the flash and use a prolonged exposure. If you set the exposure to 1.5 to 2.0 minutes, your pictures will have star streaks on them caused by the earth’s rotation. Be sure to mount your camera on a tripod as it needs to be perfectly still to avoid blurred images.
So, if you are looking for something to do with your family after the sun goes down, consider taking a drive or hike up into the Smokies. Grab some cool weather clothes, a blanket or two, even a thermos of hot cocoa and a snack, and cruise up to the trailhead or into Cades Cove. Put the blankets on the hood of your car or the ground, lay back and stare upwards at the heavens where you will behold one of the most spectacular views of the stars you are likely to have ever seen anywhere, especially if you live in a city.
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