Guide to Stargazing in the Galapagos Islands
The majority of people visit the Galapagos Islands for the spectacle of unique wildlife, world-class snorkeling, and mind-blowing volcanic formations. As it turns out, sea stars aren’t the only type of beautiful star on the islands. For most guests, it isn’t until they are relaxing on the upper deck of a Galapagos cruise or reclining in an open area of a hotel at night that they recognise the mind-blowing display of the cosmos. Here is my guide to the stargazing in the Galapagos islands.
The Stars Aligning
There are a variety of factors that make the stars align for perfect Galapagos stargazing. Whether you are an amateur stargazer, professional astronomer, or just admire looking up at the stars and spotting an occasional star or satellite, the Galapagos is the perfect place for the activity and a remarkable added bonus to your wildlife watching. Here are some of those factors:
1. The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast, with the majority of islands uninhabited. Being so far from big cities and light pollution, the stars really shine. The opportunity for stargazing has made Galapagos a hotspot for astronomy conferences. One, in particular, has drawn over 120 astrophysicists and representatives from across the world including Harvard University, Oxford University, Max Planck Institute, CALTECH, and the European Southern Observatory.
2. The Galapagos Islands straddle the equator. This means that the Galapagos region showcases constellations and stars from both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. While most observers either get to see constellations from one hemisphere or the other, the Galapagos brings some of the best of both worlds.
3. Some Galapagos cruise lines and hotels add stargazing to the itinerary. In specific, on the Santa Cruise II as the sun falls, head up to the upper deck of a cruise, and a bilingual naturalist guide will bring an ultra-powerful green laser pointer that beams into the sky able to point out constellations and stars. A truly unique and wonderful experience for stargazing. As long as one night there are clear skies, you’ll get to witness something truly spectacular.
Star Photography in the Galapagos
If you are on a Galapagos cruise, unfortunately, it is quite difficult to get a good picture of the Cosmos. The reason for this is that long exposures are typically needed to capture pictures of objects in the sky.
The rocking of a ship creates a blurring effect for these long exposures. If you have a camera with an ultra-high ISO setting where you can snap a shot just a few seconds of exposure, you might be able to capture a good shot.
However, if you are staying at a hotel in the Galapagos, the stargazing opportunities for photographers is limitless. Find a dark spot, set up your tripod, and the pictures will turn out fantastic.
Here is a beginner guide on star photography on an entry-level DSLR. For those that are advanced, keep in mind that the whole Milky Way will be visible as an arc around the horizon.
To capture this you need an ultra-wide-angle lens. This means a 14mm for full-frame and 8–11mm for crop sensor cameras.
Smartphone App for finding Constellations and Planets in the Galapagos
If you have a smartphone, be sure to download Night sky for Apple, or Skyview for Android. These applications utilize your phone camera and accelerometer (A small device in your phone made up of axis-based motion sensing) to show the stars and constellations on your screen wherever you point your phone. All you have to do is set the location and time, and you are good to go. Make sure to put the application settings to red light mode. Both the blue and white light impacts your ability to stargaze!
Stargazing in the Galapagos Top Tips
Our number one tip is to adjust to the darkness. Although our eyes take hours to fully adjust to the darkness, most of the major adjustments for night vision happen over ten minutes. So before stargazing, sit in the darkness outside for about ten minutes and let your eyes adapt. With the number of satellites now in Earth’s orbit, a small session of fifteen-minute of stargazing will typically yield a sighting of at least one satellite passing overhead.
For spotting them, try to look out of the corners of your eyes. This part of your eye is better adapted for picking up the dim lights moving across the sky. Lastly, bring a pair of binoculars. The binoculars are necessary for seeing animals up close in the Galapagos. In addition, they vastly increase what you can see while stargazing in the Galapagos.