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Viewing the North Sky – A How-To

Maine the way Stargazing image - view of a fire tower

These tips and beautiful photography were all created by our friends at Maine the Way.

To set the stargazing scene…

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

The brittle surface crust of the snow gives way beneath my feet, sending each footfall several inches deeper than I expect. My headlamp beam bathes a spot about five feet ahead of me in blueish-hued LED light—the rest of the world is a dark void.

I swivel my head around, the beam of light arcing through the cold winter air. There’s nothing aside from the flat, white expanse in all directions; I’m somewhere, maybe a half-mile offshore, on a frozen lake in northwestern Maine.

With the flick of a button I shut off the light and stand still, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Slowly, faintly at first, the dark abyss begins to take shape—the brightest stars first (the ones you can see all the way down in Portland). Slowly, hundreds and then thousands more shine their light down—the Milky Way stretching like a bright archway across the sky. The starlight reflected off the snow-covered lake casts seemingly more light than in the warmer months. I set up my tripod and pull out my camera.

Allagash North Sky Stout

A few stargazing tips

While, for me, these late-night adventures might be centered around photography, they could just as easily be for stargazing, as the same general rules of thumb apply. First, almost all of my night-sky adventures happen in the winter. Why? The extreme cold reduces moisture in the air and can make for the absolute clearest night skies. In the summer, even on a “clear” night, the humidity will cause some haziness. An added bonus is that with the longer nights you can view the stars and still get back to your warm bed before it gets too late, so it’s worth bundling up to maximize your views!

Next, you’ll want to check the moon calendar and go around the new moon, when the sky is at its darkest. While a full moon’s bright light is gorgeous in its own right, and worth seeing, the moon’s “light pollution” (ok, I know that’s a stretch!) will limit your ability to see the finer details of the Milky Way.

Where to stargaze in Maine?

So, where are the best spots to stargaze in Maine? Well, you’re in luck. The vast majority of Maine offers great stargazing with limited light pollution—outside of a few urban centers (Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, etc…), the southern part of the state offers quite dark skies with the Milky Way visible overhead. The real adventure begins when you head north. Above the towns of Rumford, Skowhegan, and Millinockett, the night sky is as dark as you’ll find anywhere in the United States. If you’re looking to find specific locations I recommend looking at this map.

Like stargazing, Allagash’s beer North Sky, is worth enjoying year-round, but comes into its own in the colder months. The rich and roasty Belgian stout replaces Allagash Black as their staple dark beer, and I confess I’ve savored one or two while huddled around a campfire’s heat, with the beer’s namesake a gently shining dome overhead. It is the perfect finish to a day, or evening, spent exploring the Maine woods!

A sunset view of Maine

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