Spy the friendly skies.
We have been spending many an evening recently lying flat on our backs star-gazing especially watching the always dramatic mid-August Perseids meteor shower (the biggest meteor shower of the year). It is such a special occasion that we blow up our air mattress and put it out on the lawn with pillows and a duvet so we will be comfy in the cool English night. We recently returned from a camping stay-cation with friends on the south coast of the UK (the closest we could come to a seaside surrogate to our annual Maldives visit) and introduced them to the super supine approach to contemplating the celestial firmament.
In the spirit of “everything is better in the Maldives”, Anantara Kihavah has installed the ultimate star gazing loungers atop their suitably named “Sky” lounge (also suitable for sunsets and ocean vistas). If only I could find someone to serve me tropical cocktails in my backyard.
One of our favourite activities in the Maldives is laying out a beach towel or dragging a lounger out of the palm canopy to the open beach to gaze up to the stars. But if you want even less sand on you and be that little bit close to the stars themselves, not to mention having a full 180 degree perspective, then LUX North Male Atoll’s villa rooftops are the apex of taking in the tropical astral lights of night time skies.
While the Black Moon might be the darkest month to the do some stargazing, where is the darkest place in the Maldives. Lots of factors affect visibility – light pollution from the moon, cloud/haze cover – but one of the biggest is light pollution from the ground. This light is what makes star gazing so difficult in built up areas and why the best observatories are located in the remote locations far from ambient light sources.
The question came up on the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum as few months ago. I pulled NASA’s night time photos of the world. As expected, there are not many lights in the Indian Ocean. The high-res TIFF shows basically 3 tacked vertically north to south. The northern most (and by far the brightest) is Male, the middle is Gan and the southernmost is the British Indian Island Territory.
I was going to examine which parts of the Maldives were the furthest from Male (without getting close to Gan). I’ve overlaid Google Maps onto the NASA photo to provide some perspective –
But doing a bit of research on skyglow shows that it doesn’t really extend beyond a few dozen miles from the major light. Check out the UK map on this site.
There is also the question of “glare” which is the light from the immediate vicinity. This light does add to the sky glow, but more importantly it adds “glare” to your viewing. So in short, you are looking for a resort who has relatively secluded villas (ie. away from the dense infrastructure of the resort operations and main public areas) and ideally one where the lighting is used sparsely.
A simpler resort like Rihiveli comes to mind (less infrastructure). A resort without water villas (at least on your side of the island) will eliminate the inevitable jetty and water villa lights (they don’t want people stumbling into the water).
This methodology narrowed down the possibilities to a couple of possibilities in some more remote, less populated atolls…
- Filitheyo, Faafu (distance to capital island – 20 km)
- Alimatha/Dhiggiri, Felidhoo (distance to capital island – 12 km, lowest population atoll)
I decided to lean to Filitheyo because Alimatha and Dhiggiri, though smaller and simpler resorts, are both near each other throwing skyglow on each other, while Filitheyo is all by itself 20 km (about the right distance for avoiding skyglow) from the major island in the atoll.
The end of February and still no new moon this month. The rare occurrence of a month with no New Moo is ominously dubbed a “Black Moon”. It’s not all glum as the absence of moon, especially a bright full one, is great for stargazing. And the pioneer in Maldives astronomy, Soneva Fushi, has added another dimension (literally) to its state-of-the-art observatory: 3D.
- “Soneva has introduced a 3D astronomy experience, with the introduction of a brand-new Meade telescope at the Observatory at Soneva Fushi, its flagship resort in the Baa Atoll of the Maldives. Resident astronomers at Soneva Fushi will be on hand to educate guests and show them the differences in distance between stars and other celestial objects using the 3D technology. Mike Dalley, CEO of Inspiring Skies, the company responsible for installing the new telescope, explained the capability of the 3D component: ‘This new technology will help revolutionize how we offer astronomy experiences to guests, as it gives depth of field to what people see while looking through the telescope. It means that, for example, while looking at an open cluster, some stars will appear closer while others further away’.”
When it comes to star gazing, no moons is good moons.
With the latest resort launched from Soneva (that’s Sonu&Eva), I’m expecting the new Soneva Jani property to open up all sorts of new possibilities. And it has literally *opened up* the universe to its guest with a stellar feature (which happened to be on my latest Haven’t Seen post #22) – a retractable roof:
“Each master bedroom will feature a retractable roof. Guests will sleep under the stars at a touch of the button, as the roof slides back to reveal the night sky.”
Soneva Fushi is the run-away leader of “Best of the Maldives” innovations and distinctions (77 compared to runner-up One & Only Reethi Rah’s 63) so I am expecting all sorts of delights to fill their latest creation. But the one that most captivates me is that all villas feature a retractable roof for stargazing!
Lori and I have fallen asleep countless times under the Maldives starscape. But eventually, you have to move inside from the hard, narrow deck loungers or sandy blanket. Now you can drift to sleep under starlight in the comfort of your villa bed. Last summer, we had a blast driving around Italy in a sporty convertible. Now you can snooze in the Maldives in your own stylish convertible.
“Raise the roof and have some fun” – All Night Long, Lionel Richie
Another rare “Super Moon” tonight!
While the sunrise and sunset seems to be the celestial obsession of the Maldives resort, it is the moon that really seems to evoke the romance for which this part of the world is renowned. Like the eponymous “honeymoon”, which many consider the Maldives to be the capital of, the shimmering moon has been the inspiration for lovers forever.
And nothing is as heart-throbbingly magical as the bright full moon. Many resorts offer sunrise yoga and sunset cruises, but Nika offers an excursion crafted around this monthly event. Their “Full Moon Excursion” features “Swimming in the lunar path reflected in the sea. There will be a drink to celebrate this special night. 23:00 – 1:00.” (35 euros)
Most of the special events in the Maldives take one down into the water (like Six Sense Laamu’s Water Wo/Men event). But equally as sparkling as the turquoise lagoons and shimmering reefs is the firmament of stars above. Usually at least once during our Maldives visits, we lie down on the warm sand after dinner to gaze at the night sky packed with stars with a flourish of Milky Way across the middle.
Resorts are catching on to this night time showpiece with increasing numbers offering telescopes, beach star gazing sessions, eclipses, observatories and special events. In fact, today’s post has prompted me to add a new category tag – ‘Astronomy’.
Gangehi is going a step further with an entire ‘Astronomy Week’ devoted to celestial celebration. The line-up includes…
- “Astro-millionaire” game
- Brief after-dinner astronomy talks
- Let’s take a shoot to the moon
- Astronomy walks
As it happens, tomorrow we enter the ‘Lagu’ period of the ‘Seed Moon’ which is Celtic for ‘Flowing Water’ (!). The Runic Calendar of Nordic traditions, which is governed by half months rather than full months, divides this moon of the year by Man (Human) from April 14th through April 28th, and Lagu from April 29th through May 13th.
If you are interested in marking other big astronomical events in your diary, then check out this handy reference chart for 2013 of "13 Must See Star Gazing Events in 2013".
The Leonids are back!
Our favourite astronomical event. We love to be in remote places with little air pollution or light pollution which provide ideal viewing. Just lie on the ground and star at the heavens waiting for the staffs to fall.
If you want to be a bit more pro-active with your personal star gazing, then Lily Beach offers the most powerful personal telescope we have found in the Maldives. A number of resorts offer a high powered device for group star gazing and Soneva Fushi even has its own observatory. But for more private viewing, Lily Beach offers Celestron Power Seeker 80EQ in its water suite which includes “3x Barlow lens triples the magnifying power of each eyepiece…[and] ‘The SkyX – First Light Edition’ astronomy software with a 10,000 object database, printable sky maps and 75 enhanced images.”
If you want to expand your space science insight beyond the reaches of Earth’s gravity, then Six Senses Laamu is introducing a series of astronomy events hosted by Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society Dr Parag Mahajani. Along with his prize-winning expertise, he will be bringing to Laamu his solar telescope. Special sun observing sessions will be conducted each morning from 10:00 am to 11:00 am.
The Maldives always has been a great place to take in the sun and Six Senses just made it that much more intimate and intriguing.
Maldives is famous for an abundance of stars. Not just the firm bodies of the jet set on the beach, but also a dazzling set in the firmament above.
With minimal light pollution and the many days of clear skies, the Maldives are a great venue for star gazing. Our family used to lie on the warm beach after dinner and just stare at the Milky Way washed across the middle of the sky.
An increasing number of resorts are introducing telescopes so guests can probe more actively into this heavenly display. Soneva Fushi has had its own entire observatory for a long time now. But, Mirihi offers a beach stargazing which is one of the best I have come across. Their 11 inch telescope allowed us to look at Saturn (complete with signature rings), Mars, Arcturus, and Alpha Centauri. What made the session distinctive was the Chief Astronomer Shareef who not only infused great enthusiasm and expertise, but also brought along his iPad astronomy apps. With them, he was able to take us on a tour of galaxies and the solar system in more detail and perspective with his masterful navigation through the colourful 3D universe
Over the next week is the Perseids meteor shower which is the best time on Earth to look for falling stars. If I see one, I will wish that I was back on the night time beach of Mirihi.