For thousands of years, astronomers have stayed up all night—sometimes tucked into snazzy onesies to withstand the nipping cold—and gazed at the sky in wonder. They’ve pressed their eyes to telescopes in the name of navigation, time-keeping, and puzzling out our place in the universe.
Over the centuries, these sky-watchers have worked in grand buildings and humble ones, looking up from a perch on secluded towers or remote mountaintops. Some of these observatories are still stocked with powerful instruments; others are ruins that speak to how humans have searched the sky for meaning.
To take stock of all the wonders in the night sky, you don’t necessarily have to venture out into endless, desolate deserts, where there’s no light to blot out your view. You can glimpse constellations from high-rise rooftops, or a sliver of the moon between the branches of trees. If you download a NASA app, you’ll get an alert every time the International Space Station zooms hundreds of miles above your head. There are cool things to see wherever you are. Then again, spotting distant stellar nurseries, or studying black holes—that often requires a bit of trekking to places where the sky seems to go on forever.
Here are some of the most wondrous places on Earth to peer beyond our atmosphere, or think about the long-ago astronomers who have now journeyed into the great beyond.