Brazilian astronomers flee the cities for ‘astrotourism’

Astrotourism is taking Brazil by storm as city folk look for ways to escape the urban jungle and immerse themselves in the glories of the night sky. This expanding trend is drawing stargazers to remote locations where they can participate in celestial surveys and investigate the fascinating mysteries of the cosmos.

Brazil has become a sanctuary for astrotourists due to its bustling cities and magnificent natural landscapes. Seeking refuge from light pollution and uninterrupted views of the stars, stargazers flock to secluded rural locations that provide excellent stargazing circumstances.

The country’s vast terrain, which includes the Amazon rainforest, the Pantanal wetlands, and an extensive coastline, offers a variety of settings for astrotourism activities.

Stars in their eyes: Brazil’s stargazers escape cities for ‘astrotourism’

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Pedro Froes, struck by the oranges and blues of the Jewel Box star cluster, part of the Southern Cross constellation, manages to utter a few words: “It’s incredible.” Froes is looking through a telescope at the stars in Desengano State Park, 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro, in a rural area generally free of light pollution.

Brazilians flee the cities to go Instagram/parqueestadualdodesengano

Desengano is Latin America’s first “International Dark Sky Park,” according to DarkSky, a global tracker of light pollution. And Froes is one of a growing number of “Astro-tourists” to the park, drawn by the park’s remoteness from cities and the light pollution they dump into the night sky.

“You can see 3,000 stars a year with the naked eye from here,” said astronomer Daniel Mello of the Valongo Observatory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

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Brazilians escape the cities to go to 'astrotourism'Instagram/mauro_pimentel

“In cities like Rio or Sao Paulo, you could see 200 in a year.”

Mello conducts a public viewing session in front of about 20 people on the front lawn of the park headquarters in the small hamlet of Santa Maria Madalena, pointing a laser at the constellations of the Southern Cross, Scorpio and Centaur.

The event is part of an initiative organized by Mello and a group of experts in tourism, ecology and photography.

The nearest major city is 120 kilometers away, shielding the park’s lush foliage, forest, and mountains from artificial light.

This means that the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye even on nights with a full moon. Two telescopes provide views of more distant stars.

“I have always admired the sky, but I never had the opportunity to see it like this,” says Froes, a 22-year-old scientist from Niteroi, a city near Rio de Janeiro.

About 80% of the world’s population sleeps in night skies polluted by artificial light due to modernization and urbanization.

Beyond dimming the stars, light pollution has a negative environmental impact, producing restless humans, disoriented migratory birds, and reproductive problems in other species.

Brazilians flee the cities to go Instagram/parqueestadualdodesengano

The only other location recognized by DarkSky in Latin America is the Elqui Valley in Chile, categorized as a “sanctuary.”

Unlike Chile, Europe or the United States, astrotourism in Brazil is still in its infancy.

However, “especially in the last six months,” says Nelson Saraiva, an increasing number of stargazers have traveled to Santa Maria Madalena. He owns one of the few motels in the town of 10,000, where most of the residents are farmers.

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Saraiva, a retired teacher, believes that astrotourism will be a great economic advantage for the neighborhood. Aside from Mello’s observation sessions, regular meetings combine astronomy and gastronomy.

The government and local businesses have teamed up to organize a star festival to capitalize on the increased tourist interest. The first festival was held in September of last year, with plans for this fall’s annual event in the works.

Brazilians flee the cities to go Instagram/parqueestadualdodesengano

Desengano Park must also support environmental education and use low-impact lighting to receive DarkSky accreditation.

These kinds of moves are great for the sky, but they have real-world consequences.

“We have an enormous diversity of birds, mammals, and reptiles that are only here because the place is preserved,” explains Carlota Enrici, the park’s director of research and biologist.

“Reducing light pollution keeps the ecosystem in balance.”

The astronomer Mello believes that other Brazilian towns will follow Desengano’s example, which will not only increase tourism but also “restore people’s contact with the starry sky and nature.”

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