“You see the sky of San Pedro Mártir, without a moon, and you see so many stars that you feel they are going to fall on you,” describes the Mexican astronomer Ilse Plauchu in relation to the beauty of so-called star tourism or astrotourism.
In an interview for Sputnikthe astronomer explains that the activity consists of taking pictures of the night sky to capture stars, planets and even the Milky Way, which necessarily implies being in an open place that allows the celestial bodies to shine in their splendor, without the already so common light pollution of cities.
This activity is as old as the daguerreotype (the first photographic camera prototype), since it is known that its creator, Louis Daguerre, in 1839, tried to take a picture of the Moon. The result was somewhat blurry, and it would be years before better images of space were obtained.
In fact, it is considered the first successful photograph of the Moon, the one taken by New York University researcher John William Draper on March 23, 1840.
Projects such as NASA’s Hubble and James Webb telescopes have also helped to increase general interest in the combination of astronomy and photography with their impressive postcards of the corners of the universe.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a new interest in open activities and, above all, in star tourism, according to the researcher’s own perception.
“We have always observed visitors who go to the National Park, but they usually go during the day and before the pandemic you could see how they entered to see the telescopes. But now I see that more people stay in the park to camp,” says the researcher.
According to data from Google Trends, words like astronomy have had a sustained growth in web searches, at least in the last five years. Since March 2020, the term reported a considerable increase until reaching its highest point in September 2022.
Countries like Mexico have been gaining the interest of astrophotographers in recent years. According to the Airbnb platform, this country was the second country in Latin America with the most accommodation for astrotourism during 2018, with 280 of the more than 3,000 places that are rented on the entire platform linked to this activity.
In that year alone, the room reservation firm reported that destinations such as the San Pedro Mártir National Park increased their demand by 191%, in line with other sites considered ideal for this activity such as Antofagasta, in Chile, La Palma , in Spain, Kiruna, in Sweden, and Yarmouth, in Canada.
Part of the heyday of this activity is that, thanks to the advancement of photography on mobile devices, these can be used to take pictures of stars as long as they have a professional mode that allows them to take long exposure photos (minimum 30 seconds).
While there are four sites around the world considered to have the best weather conditions for stargazing (Baja California in Mexico, the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Canary Islands in Spain, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii), what is also known under the term “astronomical quality” of the atmosphere (the number of clear nights, the amount of water vapor and the stability of the atmosphere).
There are other sites where the activity can be carried out and which can be consulted in tools such as Light Pollution Map, which shows a world map and the level of light pollution at each site.
For Ilse Plauchu, four conditions are required to consider that there is an optimal sky for star tourism: a very dark place, far from cities and light pollution; that it be a place that most of the year does not have clouds, and that have conditions of seeinga concept used in astronomy to assess how much one star can be distinguished from another at night.
In addition to this, it is necessary to know as accurately as possible what the weather conditions will be during the night, since this can hinder the activity, and to have guides and compasses that help locate the stars more quickly.
You see the sky of San Pedro Mártir, without a moon, and you see so many stars that you feel they are going to fall on you. And you know that each of those stars, maybe not all of them, can have solar systems like ours. It gives you an idea that we are not the only ones”, details the researcher from the Institute of Astronomy.
Although the San Pedro Mártir National Park, in Ensenada, Baja California, is one of the most visited tourist sites in the territorial entity, this activity is just beginning to be relevant for local authorities.