Oracle, AZ

Dark skies are a bright attraction in Oracle, Arizona

Nicole Underwood

By Nicole Underwood / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

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Spectacular night sky view in OracleOracle State Park website

(ORACLE, AZ) - The desert sky is one of the most mesmerizing features of the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to our vast and open land, many areas provide a front seat view to sky gazing that you won’t find anywhere else in the United States.

Here in Arizona, our dark skies go a layer deeper. Our south-western state allows many star gazers and astronomers more insight into space because of the remote land and protected state parks that create a perfect dark canvas without light pollution.

In the city of Oracle, they receive top marks. Oracle State Park, near the small city of Oracle near Tucson and along the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains, is one of the least visited properties in the Arizona State Park system with a unique feature — a dark sky designation.

Although its close to the seemingly bright skyline of Tucson, the glow does not permeate many areas of the park, thus allowing this designation to be instated. In fact, it is one of the darkest places in the country according to the International Dark-Sky Association, with incredible views of the Milky Way, numerous planets, shooting stars, and other celestial features.

Oracle State Park is approximately 4,000-square-foot in diameter, receiving its dark sky designation in 2014. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, which is headquartered in Tucson, this designation is defined as “a public land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

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Star trails over the Kannally Ranch House at Oracle State Park, ArizonaInternational Dark Sky website via Mike Weasner

This prestigious designation allows parks like Oracle State Park to receive preservation of land areas and nocturnal wildlife, education and stewardship on the importance of dark sky protection in public lands, and opportunities for public enjoyment of the night sky along with key spaces for professional and amateur astronomers to have an area of study for their research.

Overall, Arizona is home to 17 “Dark Sky Places,” making the desert a top destination for stargazers. And because over 80% of the world’s population live near light-polluted skies, we are indeed in a rare location to enjoy such a feature. Download a map of Oracle here to view the night skies that are receiving so much attention. This rare dark-sky aspect to the park has attracted countless curious stargazers and scientists to marvel at the beauty of the area they may not otherwise see.

Visitors can enjoy group gatherings organized specifically to stargaze in the park in this scenic area. Star Night Parties began back in 2008, hosted by Arizona State Parks, increasing in popularity with others over the years who take to the skies when enjoying the beauty of the desert. Plus, events happen across the state, from Tucson to Flagstaff, with featured guest speakers from places like the Planetary Science Institute, Arizona Science Center or Lowell Observatory.

Visitors can observe planets, nebulae, galaxies, star clusters and more. You can learn more about the dark skies opportunity here or on Tucson Astronomy’s Facebook page to enjoy event gatherings taking place throughout the year. Free discussions are held with these groups as well for future educational opportunities, while others are only reserved for members. Member-support star parties are also hosted for schools, churches, scout troops, and general meeting groups.

If you want to dive deeper into the darkness, take time to learn about clear sky charts, a tool essential to picking the right night to stargaze. Many aspects factor into recreational stargazing that folks need to be prepared for. Sky clarity is essential, and common cloud cover can be a deterrent when planning your evening.

Ensure you have a clear view of the horizon with no light pollution, including the light of the moon, and choose a high vantage point to have the best opportunity to witness celestial bodies. Humid or hot evenings in the summer can also spoil plans, so choose an evening when pollution is low and the temperature isn’t affecting your availability to enjoy the evening. Visit accuweather to get the best information for planning a stargazing night.

Stargazing is for everyone and allows people the opportunity to learn about our solar system. Passion Passport has great tips for first-time stargazers: Pick a dark, clear night away from the city lights, pack a beach towel allowing you to be flat on your back, grab binoculars and flashlight or headlamp to view and navigate (reserving the temptation to bring a telescope until you are more experienced), and “get to know your constellations!” Happy gazing.

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