• Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria

    The Best Places to Stargaze

    Dark sky parks, picnic under the stars, star gardens, star huts. “Organised” stargazing experiences have not just been charming romantics of late. Designated night landscape protection areas are reducing light pollution, which benefits people, animals, and the environment. So where can you find these places where stargazing becomes a true experience?

    Silence, the chirping of invisible crickets, clear air, darkness. And high above this peaceful natural setting: the overwhelming twinkling of the night sky. Our fascination with stars goes back thousands of years, featuring in countless stories about the gods and mankind. The mystery of the infinite world of stars, the questions of from where and why, and the search for the “higher power” have continued to occupy us. Astronomy – the oldest of the natural sciences.

    The hype that surrounds stars today, however, has a different experiential value than it used to. Around 100 years ago, the invention of electricity and artificial light was a highly celebrated achievement, of course. Nowadays, appreciating the sky without light pollution is the exception and an undisturbed view of the stars thus something special, almost a privilege. The problem of light pollution is increasingly being addressed and there are noteworthy initiatives in Austria that are decreasing the levels of brightness after dark and creating regions to protect the night sky. And this is not just in the interest of stargazers …

    5 Questions That Will Make Star Fans Shine

    • 1. Why Do Stars Shine?

      Stars are huge balls of gas, inside which high pressure makes the temperature to rise. This enormous heat causes hydrogen atoms to fuse together.

      It is this energy that makes the stars shine – as opposed to planets, which are cold and only shine when they are illuminated by another star. And yes, the sun is a star too!

    • 2. When Can the Stars Be Seen Best?

      The best time to see the stars is around the new moon and between two and three in the morning – provided the clouds are not in the way.

      3. Why Do Some Stars Change Colour and Twinkle?

      Astronomers refer to the twinkling of stars as scintillation (Latin scintillare – sparkle). This is caused by the refraction of light through the earth’s atmosphere. Particularly bright stars can even appear to change colour when twinkling.

    • 4. How Many Stars Are There in the Sky?

      Even if we can only see the brightest with the naked eye – there are around 100 billion stars in our galaxy.

      5. How Do You Photograph the Night Sky?

      This is best done by setting a reflex camera with manual mode to shutter speed 20 seconds, aperture f/5.6, ISO 800-1600, zoom to 20 millimetres, image stabilisation off, and focus to manual infinity. 

    Sternenpark Attersee-Traunsee, view of Weissenbach

    The Darkness of the Natural Night

    What Is a Dark Sky Park?

    99% of the American and European populations no longer experience complete darkness at night. “A Dark Sky Park is a night landscape protection area in which light pollution is reduced to enable a clear view of the darkness and the beauty of the night sky.” DI Clemens Schnaitl, managing director of the nature park and coordinator for the Attersee-Traunsee Dark Sky Park, is passionate about the sparkling project that revolves around darkness.

    You can still enjoy the darkness of the natural night in this region in the heart of the Salzkammergut, meaning clear views of the sky. Light pollution is hardly a problem here, thanks to numerous measures. The locals are encouraged to use “better light” which means: “Outdoors, light is directed to where it is needed, thus preventing upward radiation”, Schnaitl explains. “Gscheites Licht für eine naturnahe Nacht” (smart light for a natural night) is the motto of the project that Dr. Stefan Wallner, astrophysicist at the University of Vienna, scientifically supports.

    • Attersee-Traunsee: Austria’s First Dark Sky Park

      The development of the Dark Sky Park began with lots of questions, as Wallner explains. In which regions is the natural night dark enough to meet the criteria? What light sources are there? Can the Milky Way be seen with the naked eye? After the evaluation, the Attersee-Traunsee region applied for certification. After that, further steps were taken to achieve 100% Dark Sky Park compliant outdoor lighting, which affected the public, commercial, and private use of light. In 2021, the International Dark Sky Association finally awarded the project official recognition as a Dark Sky Park, making its initiators shine like the night sky. It is Austria’s first Dark Sky Park after all, of which there are 150 around the world, with 35 of them being in Europe. “An important step for biodiversity and the protection of the natural night sky”, light pollution expert Wallner concludes.

      Pure Madness: Light Pollution

      A Dark Sky Park – what an achievement. But why? Stefan Wallner explains the major consequences of light pollution, i.e. the illumination of the night sky by aritificial light. It can have negative effects on flora and fauna as well as human health – from street lighting and the illumination of monuments and buildings to commercial lighting and light sources from private buildings.

    • Light pollution is a phenomenon created by man”, Wallner analyses. “It’s about light that is not actually required, which shines into natural spaces and illuminates areas that were not intented to be lit up. This has an impact on the entire cycle of life.”

      1. Bad for wildlife: 70% of mammals are nocturnal. Robbing them of the night results in behavioural changes and a reduction in the biomass of insects.

      2. Bad for the environment: Artificial light can stimulate photosynthesis at night, which is actually triggered by sunlight during the day. This reduces the lifespan of trees because they exert themselves.

      3. Bad for people: We need natural darkness because we live according to a circadian rhythm – i.e. a day-night rhythm. This means that certain hormones are released in order to be active and focused throughout the day and others to be able to relax at night. The hormone melatonin is responsible for the latter, and it is only activated when it is dark. Light stops the transportation of melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep and recovery. This upsets our biorhythm and, as a result, our immune system.

    Boat at lake Traunsee

    Lights Out – Night Sky On!

    No beam of light is left to chance in the Attersee-Traunsee region. Light sources are shielded to avoid stray light and there has been a shift towards environmentally friendly, warm white colours and switching off or dimming lights by night. The surrounding communities have committed to converting all further light sources in the Dark Sky Park to meet the necessary criteria within the next ten years.

    This makes the region a star paradise, and indeed: once your eyes have got used to such darkness and you gradually see thousands of dots shining in the sky, you won’t be able to tear yourself away. Even if astronomy has long solved many mysteries, this sight of such natural beauty is quite humbling and magical, which feels at least as good as the thought of its sustainable benefits.

    Go out into the night and look at the stars and you are free!

    Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria
    Friedrich von Gagern (1882-1947) - Austrian author
    Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria

    Europe’s Darkest Nights

    Stargazing In Gesäuse National Park

    It has to be really dark in order to see the bright band of the Milky Way; a condition which is met in Gesäuse National Park and its towns of Admont, Johnsbach, Weng, Hieflau, Landl, and St. Gallen. The crystal clear night skies are thanks to the distance to the cities of Vienna, Graz, Salzburg, and Linz, meaning that light pollution is very low. Nights in the Gesäuse are among the darkest in Europe.

    The national park offers themed stargazing excursions. So as not to disturb the wild animals in their nocturnal activity, there are guided tours around the Weidendom Visitor Centre or on the Buchauer Sattel. The area should not be explored alone. 

    Gesäuse Night Sky
    •                         Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria
    •                         Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria
    •                         Starry sky in Gesäuse National Park in Styria

    4 Tips to Avoid Light Pollution

    The 11 Best Stargazing Places and Experiences

    •                 Sternwarte Altenmarkt-Zauchensee

      The Path of the Moon in Altenmarkt Zauchensee The Path of the Moon in Altenmarkt Zauchensee

      Open-air observatory in SalzburgerLand
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      Classics Under the Stars at Stift Göttweig Classics Under the Stars at Stift Göttweig

      Culture and night sky
    •                 Sportgastein summer / Sportgastein

      Stars and Mountains in Sportgastein Stars and Mountains in Sportgastein

      Stargazing in SalzburgerLand
    •                 Sternenpark Attersee-Traunsee, view of Weissenbach

      Glowworm Special in Nature Park Attersee-Traunsee Glowworm Special in Nature Park Attersee-Traunsee

      A sensory forest experience
    •                 Weyregg am Attersee

      Picnic Under the Stars on the Kreuzingalm Picnic Under the Stars on the Kreuzingalm

      Romance by Lake Attersee
    •                 Bivouac under the stars

      Bivouac Under the Stars at Lake Millstatt Bivouac Under the Stars at Lake Millstatt

      The splendour of the night in Carinthia
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      Dürrenstein Light Protection Area Dürrenstein Light Protection Area

      Stargazing in Lower Austria’s primeval forest
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      Balcony of Stars at Lake Millstatt Balcony of Stars at Lake Millstatt

      Romance in Carinthia
    •                 Hochmoor in Filzmoos with view of the Dachstein mountain range

      Night Skies in SalzburgerLand’s Filzmoos Night Skies in SalzburgerLand’s Filzmoos

      Mountain summer nights
    •                 Sternenpark Attersee-Traunsee: the Gahberg chapel / Oberösterreich

      Observatory Gahberg-Weyregg Observatory Gahberg-Weyregg

      Guided tours at Lake Attersee
    •                 Prebersee in Salzburg's Lungau

      Guided Star Walks by Lake Prebersee Guided Star Walks by Lake Prebersee

      Dark nights in the Lungau

    Sun, Moon, and Stars in Vienna’s Recreation Areas

    • Forest, meadows, birdsong, and the seemingly endless sky: that’s the natural setting of Star Garden Georgenberg on the south-eastern outskirts of Vienna, the border to the Vienna Woods Biosphere Reserve.

      Dr. Gottfried Gerstbach, chairman of the Austrian Astro Association, and star activist Maria Pflug-Hofmayr are the hosts who teach visitors all about the apparent rotation of the night sky, the path of the sun throughout the year, and the fascination of stargazing.

    • “Less Light For More Birds and Stars”
      More than 15 years ago, Prof. Hermann Mucke had the idea of building the almost one hectare facility for horizon astronomy, which uses methods to observe stars. Buildings make the mathematical horizon, the astronomical meridian, and the daily course of the sun visible. With their dedication to the star garden, Gerstbach and Pflug-Hofmayr make an important contribution to the awareness of light pollution, which they address on their tours. Those who want to find out more should listen to our podcast! (German only)

    Star Garden Georgenberg: The Open-Air Planetarium in Vienna

    Stars – the fireworks that remain in the sky.

    Sternenpark Attersee-Traunsee, view of Weissenbach
    Jules Renard (1864-1910) - French author

    Here’s Even More for Those Who Love to Observe Nature

    •                         hiking in forest near lake Hallstatt

      Austria's Forests

      Spending time in the forest means slowing down, becoming calmer. A walk between trees, moss, ferns, and herbs can revive our spirits.
      Read more
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      The Krimml Waterfalls’ Health Secret

      Austria’s highest waterfalls can boost your respiratory health: Learn more about the Krimml Waterfalls' special aerosols.
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