The best show around doesn't require a ticket or assigned seating. It's a universe away but right within reach by looking skyward. Just ask anyone who stayed up last week to watch the "blood Moon" lunar eclipse.
In honor of International Dark Sky Week, we asked Sonoma County astronomers to share some of their favorite places to view the night sky. They came up with eight.
These rural spots are far from the glare of city lights, where smaller populations and undeveloped land translate to unobstructed views and less artificial light pollution. Couple that with lower humidity levels (which means less haze) and stargazers often find skies so dark they can spot constellations or even the Milky Way.
Professional photographer and wilderness guide Jim Nevill of Bodega is known for his magnificent starry night shots. He has traveled to scenic locations far and wide but captures some of his most beautiful shots right at home.
"I've not seen many night skies that compare to here," Nevill said.
By taking some precautions and heading out during prime conditions, viewers can spot some 2,000 stars even without using a telescope, said Ed Megill, programming director at the Santa Rosa Junior College Planetarium.
"They would probably have tears in their eyes," he said. "It is just so spectacular. It is something else."
The best places to see the night sky are far away from city lights and the higher the better. Cooler temperatures are better, because a calmer atmosphere offers the clearest views. (Even a thin haze can reduce the view.)
The sky is at its best a few hours before sunrise, although that can vary. The new moon or a sliver of a crescent moon provide the darkest skies.
Check local conditions at cleardarksky.com/c/SntRsCAkey.html and get more info at sonomaskies.org.
Here are a few places to get great views of the galaxy above, five in dark, remote spots that require planning and precautions, and three for those who prefer more organized stargazing parties.
Those on their own are encouraged to pack water, a compass, a headlamp or flashlight, and to tell somewhere where they're going and when they plan to return. Also wear sturdy shoes and dress warmly enough to be comfortable sitting for extended periods.
1. Bull Frog Pond above Armstrong Woods State Park in Guerneville. This location high above the redwoods is a favorite of Jim Goodenough, a member of the Sonoma County Astronomical Society and co-owner of Wine Country Star Party. Access is via a narrow, winding and steep road about 3 miles from the park ranger kiosk.
2. Carlevaro Way, near Jenner. This is another favorite of Goodenough, located off Highway 1 just south of the entrance to Goat Rock Beach. Once on Carlevaro Way, the road branches into two streets. Take the right-hand branch.
3. The Geysers around the Sonoma and Lake County border. Megill suggests anywhere in The Geysers area, accessible from Highway 128 east and Pine Flat Road.