If you can't pinpoint the constellations (don't worry, most people can't), and don't want your children to grow up like you (don't worry, most parents don't), there's no need to stay in the dark. These five stellar gadgets will turn you and your gang into overnight astronomers
Artline Starship Earth II Globe
Before you head out, use this three-dimensional sky map to see what's up. Align your location and the hour of the day by turning the knobs that rotate the earth and position the sun—and note the constellations as they appear from your vantage point. Bonus: this hand-screened globe is beyond educational—it's stunning.
Celestron ExploraScope 80
Unlike the elaborate lens system used inside refractors (those long tubular telescopes), this reflecting telescope's simple mirror setup allows for a compact construction—and portability. Spot-on for kids.
Zhumell Tachyon 25 x 100 Binoculars
True, you get less magnification than you would with a telescope, but the two-eyed approach adds clarity and an awesome field of view to the cosmic experience.
Replogle Inflatable Star Globe
A beach ball that carries almost as much information as its far, far pricier celestial-globe siblings. Perfect for star parties: it glows in the dark.
Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium
Aim this GPS-guided finder into the heavens and it identifies exactly what you're seeing. Or choose from a menu of 6,000 astronomical objects (including a Top 20 list of the evening's highlights) and follow the flashing arrows in the viewer until you've scored a bull's-eye.
For Your Viewing Pleasure
Arizona's Sonoran Desert, Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island, and Bryce Canyon in Utah offer some of the country's most brilliant night skies. Want a lookout a little closer to home?Locate a site that is:
High The greater the altitude, the clearer the air.
Dry An arid setting has blessedly few clouds.
Dark Your goal is to get as far from civilization's light pollution as possible.
Extra-Dark The moon itself is guilty of stealing the spotlight—stargazing is best under a new (i.e., nearly invisible) moon.
By Krista Meyerhoff
The best stargazing sites are high, dry, and dark. Here are a few with stellar conditions.
Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii
A dormant, sometimes snow-tipped (yes, in Hawaii) volcano that's home to the world's largest collection of observatories-13
High: 2.46 miles
Dry: 325 clear nights a year
Dark: After sunset, the staffers at the peak don't even turn on their headlights
The astronomer guides at Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (888/322-2366; maunakea.com; 7-hour tour $185 per person; minimum age 13; parka, meal, and hot chocolate included) can't get you into the observatories-they're open only to pros-but they'll take you to the peak at sunset, just as the mammoth domes open like the eyelids on some prehistoric nocturnal creature. The group then descends to the rocky, red, Mars-like terrain at 9,000 feet for an eyefulStay at: Hilton Waikoloa Village (800/445-8667; hiltonwaikoloavillage.com; doubles from $199)
Kitt Peak National Observatory, Sonoran Desert, Arizona
The world's largest collection of telescopes-26-assembled in one the driest deserts in North America
High: 1.3 miles
Dry: More than 300 clear nights a year
Dark: The nearest large city, Tucson, is almost 50 miles away
The observatory (520/318-8726; noao.edu/outreach/kpvc/) offers visitors the chance to play with powerful telescopes. Reservations are a must. Closed during the rainy season, July 15 to September 1
Stay at: JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort & Spa (888/236-2427; jwmarriottstarrpass.com; doubles from $299)
Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona
You can gaze through the same lens founder Percival Lowell used more than a century ago to search for canals on Mars
High: 1.4 miles
Dry: 245 clear nights a year
Dark: Out of respect for the observatory, Flagstaff shielded its street lighting and became the first "International Dark Sky City"
The observatory (928/774-3358; lowell.edu) offers nightly telescope sessions. Also on view: real-time night sky shows in the just-opened McAllister Space Theatre
Stay at: Radisson Woodlands Hotel Flagstaff (1175 W. Rte. 66; 888/201-1718; radisson.com; doubles from $129)
The viewing is sensational at these parks
By Krista Meyerhoff
Scan the skies at these hotels and resorts. Check with the concierge-most can arrange a private session with an astronomer.
By Krista Meyerhoff
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (480/515-5700; fourseasons.com; doubles from $345)Free group star tutorials are held once a week on the main lawn-or have the in-house astronomer come to your balcony for a private lesson. To discover out-of-this-world craters and canyons, call Stellar Adventures (877/878-3552; stellaradventures.com; 3-hour tour $150 per person) for a Hummer tour through Tonto National Forest.
L'Auberge de Sedona (Sedona; 800/905-5745; lauberge.com; cottages from $400)On Friday nights, professional stargazer Dennis Young shows guests distant galaxies and nebulae with his homemade portable scopes. Or lie back on the hotel's binocular chair-a beach lounger with binoculars strapped on-for hands-free viewing of exploding stars.
La Quinta Resort & Club (La Quinta; 800/598-3828; laquintaresort.com; doubles from $279)On Friday and Saturday nights, guests gather on the outdoor plaza to study the star map with a local astronomer and take turns at the telescope.
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa (200 Nohea Kai Dr., Maui; 808/661-1234; maui.hyatt.com; doubles from $350; Tour of the Stars, $20 for adults, $10 for kids, $25 for outside guests; reservations required)Climb nine stories to the hotel's rooftop for nightly astonomer-led sessions with a "Great White," one of the largest telescopes in North America . Push a button and the high-tech scope tracks hot spots in the sky to guide you across the moon's surface or help you spot Saturn's rings. The hourlong star hunt concludes with a goody bag filled with Milky Ways and Starburst.
Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas (1610 Las Vegas Pkwy.,Henderson; 702/567-4700; ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $309; stargazing, $95 for groups of up to five, $125 with s'mores and cocktails; reserve with the concierge)Assemble your gang on the spa balcony for an hourlong star-spotting jamboree, complete with raspberry mojitos for you and s'mores for the kids.
Club Med Columbus Isle (San Salvador Island, Bahamas; 888/932-2582; clubmed.com; 7-night all-inclusives from $1,400 per person; inquire about discounts for kids)Come sundown, staff manager and self-taught stargazer Bruno Bazzuchhi brings out a GPS-equipped Meade telescope and a pair of astronomical binoculars and leads a tour of the skies. Dazzled?Stick around for a discussion on celestial mythology.
The Westin St.John Resort Villas (St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands; 866/716-8108; westin.com; doubles from $229)Join Kelly Hunter, a local who has been studying the night sky for 35 years, at the pool deck for a free study session with sky guides and a telescope. Extra enticement: a nighttime swim in the USVI's largest pool.
Explora en Atacama Lodge (St. Pedro de Atacama; 56-2/206-6060; explora.com; doubles from $1,642 for a 3-night stay for adults, plus $300 for kids 12 and under and $600 for kids over 12)Stroll past pimiento and Chanares trees to a desert field for a 90-minute sky exploration with a professional guide. Beginning in October, stargazing enthusiasts can stake out a spot in the new cupola, where a GPS-equipped telescope identifies galaxies and constellations.
Las Ventanas al Paraiso (Los Cabos; 52-624/144-2800; lasventanas.com; suites from $700)Greet the galaxies during twice-weekly astronomy sessions with a telescope programmed to target the best of the southern Baja skies. Back at your suite, step on to your terrace to browse the heavens with a sky map and telescope-directions included.
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