Astronomy. What are the best places to observe the stars from our departments?

In summer, many stars are visible to the naked eye. We can even hope to see shooting stars, the meteorites that burn up as they pass through the atmosphere. When they pass right over our heads, they are easy to observe. On the other hand, the more you look towards the horizon, the more the vision becomes blurred, disturbed by the light rays from the cities.

According to the National Observatory of Biodiversity, 81% of the national territory is plagued by light pollution. A barrier to observation of the sky and a disturbance to some of the fauna whose bearing is disturbed. This light pollution includes public and private lighting and traffic. Homo sapiens has gradually tamed the night to be able to live there as in broad daylight. And even when you stand in the middle of nature, away from built-up areas, the distant lights radiate the horizon.

To limit this phenomenon, it is advisable to move as much as possible away from light sources and to gain height. What better than the alpine sectors to try the experience. The most daring will choose a night hike with headlamps. Others will choose areas accessible by car for the price of a few kilometers through winding roads.

The Alps largely escape light pollution

Satellite image: Google Earth

There are maps that allow you to know the darkest places near you. These maps are similar to those illustrating population density. Thus, the Alpine arc is quite well equipped with areas that are not polluted by light. Especially in rural areas like the eastern part of Savoie or the high alpine and low alpine massifs.

Of course, for a successful stargazing experience, go on a cloudless night and take into account the cycles of the moon to prevent the full moon from obscuring your view.

Here are some examples of places that are ideal for stargazing in the summer:

The lights of Geneva do not reach the top of the Jura.

The lights of Geneva do not reach the top of the Jura.

Aïn

The National Nature Reserve of the Haute Chaîne du Jura offers many privileged places for stargazing. The Jura massif acts as a natural barrier with the very dense Geneva urban area, a vector for light pollution.

You must go east of Annecy to observe the stars.

You must go east of Annecy to observe the stars.

Haute-Savoie

Here it is advisable to move away from large cities, such as Annecy, as well as populated valleys, such as Arve. The Bornes massif and the Aravis area offer a large number of passes and villages from which it is easy to observe the sky.

Light pollution spreads in the valley, but not in the Chartreuse and Bauges massifs.

Light pollution spreads in the valley, but not in the Chartreuse and Bauges massifs.

Savoy

More rural than neighboring Haute-Savoie, Savoie has many places from which to enjoy the dark night. Only 30 minutes from Chambéry, the Doriaz car park, located at an altitude of 1100 m, is a good starting point to admire the firmament. Savoyards can also go to the heart of the Beaufortain or Vanoise massif, which is sparsely populated and therefore little affected by light pollution.

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Grenoble Y is even more visible at night.

Grenoble Y is even more visible at night.

Ice cream

The Y-shape, so characteristic of the Grenoble metropolis, is particularly visible at night. But the locals can enjoy very dark areas, a few kilometers from the urban area, in Chartreuse. The pre-Alpine massif is a perfect rampart against the onslaught of light from Grésivaudan and the neighboring towns of Chambéry and Grenoble.

Diois is full of dark places at night.

Diois is full of dark places at night.

Dream

The southern part of the Vercors massif has a privileged location away from the big cities. By gaining a little height, in the direction of the municipalities of the plateau, you will find many places from which the sky is offered to the eyes of the curious.

The Monts d'Ardèche and Ardèche Cévènes are sheltered from the lights of the cities.

The Monts d’Ardèche and Ardèche Cévènes are sheltered from the lights of the cities.

Ardeche

Almost the entire department is recognized to allow stargazing. But it is in the Cévennes section that you will find the best places, on the border with the Gard.

The Col du Galibier is a popular spot for photographers.

The Col du Galibier is a popular spot for photographers.

High mountains

In the department there are many high-altitude observation posts, such as Saint-Véran or Moydans, where the famous Barronies Provençales observatory is located (see the map above). The well-preserved Ecrins National Park also has the advantage of altitude and low light pollution. The famous Col du Galibier is easily accessible by car and is also a great place to indulge in night photography with La Meije in the background.

The Valensole plateau offers a view of almost 5 different departments.

The Valensole plateau offers a view of almost 5 different departments.

Alpes de Haute Provence

Like Écrins National Park, Mercantour is an area protected from all pollution, including light pollution. The department also has many astronomy observatories such as those in Haute-Provence, Mont-Chiran, Puimichel, Mount Lure and Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire. Furthermore, in the southwestern part of the department, the Valensole plateau gathers all the conditions for perfect stargazing. At an average altitude of 500m, the site offers views of the Sainte-Beaume and Sainte-Victoire massifs, as well as the Luberon, Mount Lure, Dévoluy, the Dignes pre-Alps and Mount Chiran.

Lagarde-d'Apt, the highest village in the Vaucluse, is spared from light pollution.

Lagarde-d’Apt, the highest village in the Vaucluse, is spared from light pollution.

Vaucluse

The gentle reliefs of the Luberon allow you to gain a little height to set your telescope. And it is in the highest town in the department, in Lagarde-d’Apt, that the SIRENE observatory is located. An ideal place to admire the different constellations.

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