Travelers are becoming more and more interested in destinations that specialize in providing once-in-a-lifetime nature experiences, stargazing being one. If you’re one of those people curious about astrotourism, you should know that North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands boasts some of the most amazing stargazing spots along the East Coast. Due to the area’s lack of light pollution or high rises, as well as its south-facing beaches, stargazers can enjoy vast constellations surrounded by nothing but the ocean and sand. Those looking to maximize their experience will want to get as close to a dark sky as possible to see the stars like never before.
What is a Dark Sky?
While it may sound self-explanatory, a dark sky does not just refer to the darkness of night but instead the near-total absence of light altogether, which makes for ideal stargazing. With NC's Brunswick Islands’ lack of light pollution and its sweeping beaches, there are a number of areas where you can find a near-total dark sky. For an even darker effect, avoid stargazing on a full or near-full moon to opt for times when the moon is waning and provides less illumination.
Milky Way Season
Milky Way season denotes the 7–8 months a year when we in the northern hemisphere can view the Milky Way. This is only possible from March to October when the sun is on the opposite side of the sky the galaxy is in. However, the season’s peak dates take place from late April to late July, when the galactic center is visible for longer throughout the night. This time of year also boasts the islands’ warmest air and water temperatures, making it the perfect time to plan a visit to NC's Brunswick Islands.
The Brunswick Islands offer the most epic views of the stars during the Milky Way season directly from the shores of any of its six beaches - Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, and Bald Head Island. Due to the islands' south-facing orientation, the Milky Way can be seen right over the ocean with an unobstructed view.
When and Where to Stargaze in NC's Brunswick Islands
There are endless places to stargaze in the area, with the most obvious being directly from the beach. Layout a blanket and listen to the waves as you experience your own personal light show. Stargazing is even better during sea turtle nesting season, which takes place May-August. During this period, many locals opt to turn out their lights in order to help the turtles find their way to the beach and back into the ocean with ease, which makes for less light pollution and clearer skies.
Nicholas Sparks fans may want to stargaze at the Old Smithville Burying Ground in Southport, where Landon Carter famously named a star after Jamie in A Walk To Remember, while science buffs and extra-enthusiastic astrotourists may want to view the stars from Ingram Planetarium.
The stars always shine at Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach. The planetarium features a 40-foot diameter hemispherical dome featuring a high-definition digital projection system, a high-powered laser emitter, 360 LED lighting, and an impressive surround sound system. Get an up-close-and-personal view of the stars directly from the planetarium’s dome ceiling during their “The Sky Tonight” program. A presenter will take you through a tour of the night sky, pointing out constellations, planets, and stars in the area. Later, as you are walking along the beach on a clear night, you will be able to recognize by name the celestial sights you see. The Sky Theater features educational shows on a range of topics from all over the universe, including climate, astronauts, the solar system, and more.
No matter where in the area you decide to tilt your head up and look at the sky, NC’s Brunswick Islands has the best views of constellations and the Milky Way right here on our coast. Start planning your Brunswick Islands stargazing adventure here.