Tips for viewing and photographing the night sky in Death Valley:
Visit during the new moon — this is when the moon is not visible which means the sky will be darker and you can see more stars.
Know what to look for — check out the night sky almanac to right to get an idea of what might be visible and where.
Avoid light pollution — pick a place to view the night sky away from developed areas. Ubehebe Crater has some of the darkest skies in the park, but the stars can be just as spectacular at Harmony Borax Works.
Stay out long enough — it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the night sky to see the most stars.
Use a red light —or put a piece of red cellophane on your flashlight. This will minimize the effect of the light on your adjusting eyes.
Look at the horizon — Death Valley has large, towering mountains. If you pick a low place to view the night sky, like Badwater Basin, some of the stars could be blocked by the mountain ranges. Pick a large open area with some elevation to see the most stars.
Bring binoculars — a simple pair of binoculars can be a great way to get a closer look!
Where to go
Harmony Borax Works is located close to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and provides a great place to see the stars with little obstruction from the mountains. There are also historic buildings and a mule cart for night photography, which will make for an interesting foreground.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is located close to Stovepipe Wells and is a great spot for seeing A LOT of sky. Unobstructed views can be found here, but the close proximity to the highway means the potential for light pollution from headlights.
Badwater Basin is located 17 miles south on Badwater Road. Milky Way viewing can be somewhat obstructed from the mountains, but seeing the night sky from the salt flats is a unique, other-worldly experience! Not to mention that the salt flats are great for the foreground of a night shot.
Death Valley National Park harbors some of the darkest night skies in the United States. That dark sky is key to its certification as the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.
"Death Valley is a place to gaze in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way, follow a lunar eclipse, track a meteor shower, or simply reflect on your place in the universe," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "We greatly appreciate the International Dark-Sky Association certification. It illustrates the park's commitment to protect natural darkness and supports the wider mission to protect nightscapes in the entire National Park System."
"As the world becomes more urbanized," Jarvis added, "the value of a starry sky only increases and our ability to offer visitors these incredible experiences is an integral part of the National Park Service mission to preserve our nation's most cherished places for this and future generations."
Death Valley's natural darkness, along with National Park Service actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting, led the International Dark-Sky Association to designate the park as the third and largest International Dark Sky Park.
"The Dark Sky Park designation represents not only the efforts of the park and its partners, but the dedication of avid amateur astronomers who have sought the park's world-class starry skies for decades," said Dan Duriscoe, of the National Park Service's Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.
To qualify for the dark sky designation, the park improved external lighting at facilities in the Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells areas, reducing energy consumption, sky glow,and glare. The designation requires the park to sustain its efforts to protect night sky resources and visitor education. Implementation of the park's lighting guidelines will improve the natural character of the night and leave the stars untarnished in other areas of the park.
The park's actions to reduce unnecessary lighting also tie in with "Starry, Starry Night," one of the goals in A Call to Action-the National Park Service's stewardship and engagement priorities for its second century.
"At Death Valley the sky literally begins at your feet," said Tyler Nordgren, Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Redlands (Calif.) and International Dark-Sky Association board member. "When my students and I look up at night from our southern California campus, we can usually count 12 stars in the sky. However, less than a five hour drive from Los Angeles there's a place where anyone can look up and see the universe the way everyone could 100 years ago."
In the winter and spring seasons, park rangers offer night sky programs and hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations. Using high-powered telescopes, visitors can explore the mysteries of Death Valley's dark, night skies.