While the Eastern Seaboard is generally known to be terrible for night sky quality, there are spots in every New England state where you can find pockets of darkness to enjoy the stars.
Take the Constitution State, for example. Connecticut has a burgeoning stargazing scene, so there are plenty of locations throughout the state where you can watch the stars. These places include state parks, public observatories, planetariums, forests, and rural areas. Even if you live in one of the populated cities in Connecticut, there are locations all around you can travel to if you’re into astrotourism and up for a short (or longer) drive. (If you are up for a drive, Maine has the best dark skies in New England, by a long shot!)
Whether you’re looking to go stargazing with kids, friends, or family, Connecticut offers numerous opportunities for it. Here are some of the best places for stargazing in Connecticut.
Featured photo credit: MK Feeney via Flickr
1. Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium
Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium is a Yale-affiliated institution that organizes regular stargazing experiences for Connecticut residents. These sessions are held every Tuesday on the LFOP observation deck and are open to the public.
Visitors can experience awe-inspiring planetarium shows in the LFOP’s digital planetarium theater. The state-of-the-art facility has a Spitz SciDomeHD system for simulating the solar system and displaying colorful full-dome videos.
The observatory is a great space for viewing the stars and has two amazing telescopes. One is a historic 8-inch Reed telescope installed in 1882, while the other is a modern, computer-controlled reflecting telescope housed in the Western Dome.
2. John J. McCarthy Observatory
The John J. McCarthy Observatory boasts accreditation from the International Astronomical Union and possesses advanced facilities for astronomical research. It operates out of the New Milford High School campus and counts on the many volunteers that keep the lights on.
The main observation deck, houses the main telescope stack mounted on a computer-controlled mount system and equatorial pier. There’s also a lift so that wheelchair users can also use the telescopes.
Other facilities include a 1,000-foot outdoor observation deck to enjoy magnificent views of the dark sky. Another 3,000-foot Galileo garden is close by and is perfect if you’re stargazing with a group of people.
Thanks to gifts from generous donors, the McCarthy Observatory has a fantastic array of astronomical equipment. The list includes a state-of-the-art 16″ Cassegrain telescope, 106mm Takahashi refracting telescope, Colorado solar telescope, and 106mm Takahashi refracting telescope.
3. Mashamoquet Brook State Park
If you’re looking for a state park that offers stargazing, you’re in luck! Mashamoquet Brook State Park, located in remote Pomfret, is free from light pollution and provides some of the best dark-sky viewings.
This is the place to go if you want an amazing outdoor experience. Apart from stargazing, you can also do other fun activities like camping, hiking, swimming and much more. It’s a great overnight camping location, especially if you’re with kids. If you want your children to relax while camping at night from the comfort of their bed as they watch the stars above them, make sure to visit Mashamoquet Brook, State Park.
4. Lovers Leap State Park
Lovers Leap State Park is famous for its scenic trails, historic ruins, and natural landscapes. It’s another state park that has some of the best stargazing opportunities in Connecticut.
It offers a self-guided stargazing experience, so you won’t have anyone to assist you, but you can also enjoy it at your own leisure. The absence of others means you can have a personal experience and enjoy yourself better.
If you plan on tent camping overnight, you can go on hiking trails during the day and enjoy the stars at night.
5. White Memorial Conservation Center
Located in one of the remotest parts of Connecticut, in Litchfield, the White Memorial Conservation Center draws stargazers from all over the state. The location is quite popular with astronomy enthusiasts for a good reason. Litchfield’s remote location means less light pollution and better opportunities for sighting the stars in all their glory.
You can participate in stargazing events organized by the Litchfield Hills Amateur Astronomy Club and the Mattatuck Astronomical Society. These star parties include guest presentations on the solar system, interactive sessions, and group viewings of planetary objects.
The White Memorial Conservation Center charges zero fees to attend an event. Additionally, you can use any available telescopes — or bring along your telescope and binoculars for a more personalized experience.
6. WCSU Planetarium and Observatory
Western Connecticut State University hosts stargazing events from late February through mid-May. While that means no summer star-watching events, you can still experience some pretty cool star parties there.
The WCSU Planetarium and Observatory has a wide range of equipment to make it easy to watch the movement of the stars and planets. That includes a Spitz A3p star projector, special effects projectors, and a video projection system.
There’s a one-hour planetarium show, after which you can view the moon, Jupiter, and other prominent celestial bodies. You can view things through a 20-inch, computer-controlled Ritchey-Chretien reflector telescope.
7. Westport Observatory
The Westport Observatory is one of Connecticut’s best locations for stargazing. That’s thanks to the volunteer-run nonprofit responsible for running the facility: the Westport Astronomical Society.
For decades, the association has organized cosmic observations for visitors from around the state of Connecticut. It also invites top speakers to enlighten members of the public and promote knowledge of astronomy.
Public viewing nights happen weekly on Wednesday nights between 8 PM and 10 PM, depending on the weather. The observatory has cutting-edge equipment for observation of celestial objects, including a 14″ Celestron EdgeHD telescope, an Explore Scientific 102mm f/7 refractor, and a 25″ Obsession telescope.
8. Van Vleck Observatory
Housed in Middletown, Connecticut, the Van Vleck Observatory offers visitors an opportunity to fall in love with the wonders of the solar system. You can see different planetary objects from the well-equipped observation area, including the moon, galaxies, nebulas, globular clusters, and planets.
You can find the Van Vleck Observatory — which is volunteer-operated, on a university campus. It has monthly star-watching events for interested members of the public. When the weather permits, you can enjoy a guided tour of the cosmos courtesy of the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford.
9. Bowman Observatory
Bowman Observatory was built in 1940 by Alden W. Smith, a science teacher at Greenwich High School. The original facility underwent a significant renovation in 2007, bringing it closer to the modern-day observatories.
Dark skies at this location provide an unrivaled stargazing experience for enthusiasts. You can attend public viewings twice a month, although the observatory opens its doors to celebrate special celestial events.
The Bowman Observatory stays in Greenwich, Connecticut, and operates out of the Julian Curtiss School on East Elm Street. The observatory offers some of the latest and top-notch equipment out there.
10. Talcott Mountain Science Center
Talcott Mountain Science Center houses the largest planetarium in Connecticut. At this popular planetarium, you can watch stunning presentations of both current and past planetary events.
You can watch the stars while guides offer interactive lessons on the solar system. You’ll be able to see deep into the galaxy with the center’s state-of-the-art art telescopes. You’ll get that feeling every stargazer gets as they gaze up into the vast expanse of the sky, into the breathtaking and fascinating cosmos.
If you’re lucky, you can experience those once-in-a-lifetime celestial events. That includes everything from the odd meteor shower to eclipses.
11. Grace Farms
Nestled in the heart of New Canaan, Grace Farms is free from the light pollution common in big-city locations. The beauty of the starry skies here is simply something you’d have to visit to experience it first-hand.
While amateur stargazing is fun, you might want a guide to explain some astrological concepts, like the meaning of constellations. Grace Farms hosts public stargazing events with astronomy experts on hand to guide you through the viewing experience.
Star-watching at Grace Farms starts past sunset, between 8 PM and 9.30 PM. There are available telescopes for visitors, but it’s also not a bad idea to bring your own telescope. You can also enjoy an overnight camping experience after watching the stars, so bring your tents.
12. Stamford Planetarium & Observatory
The Stamford Planetarium and Observatory is another excellent location for stargazing. Astronomy sessions are held on select Friday nights and offer excellent opportunities for dark-sky viewing. You can interact with other astronomy enthusiasts and geek out over stars.
The observatory has a high-precision 22-inch research telescope that can pick out most celestial bodies. Besides watching the stars, visitors to the Stamford Observatory can take part in presentations on astronomy-related topics. There are Fairfield County Astronomical Society members on hand that can help you learn about the cosmos and broaden your knowledge.
13. Hammonasset Beach State Park
Public observatories and planetariums have strict limits on when you can stargaze. When you’re camping by yourself, there are no such limits — you can stay up all night to gaze at the stars if you want.
Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison is a regular attraction for Connecticut residents looking for a comprehensive stargazing experience. There are over hundreds of open sites for you and your family to camp. Additionally, you get other amenities like bathrooms, hot showers, and more.
If you want to go camping for a few days without giving up comforts, it’s the perfect place to visit for that too.
Have any questions about these spots for stargazing in Connecticut, or do you know others? Let me know in the comments.