Story by Molly Triffin
Photos by Brian Drourr Photography
Here at Spruce Peak, summer and fall days are often packed full—whether you’re embarking on adventures to swimming holes and hiking trails, pedaling down the rec path, dipping your oars into Little River, scaling the Notch, casting a line…or just busy R&Ring at the pool with a book and an iced coffee.
But the best part of visiting the green mountains might be the splendor in store once the sun dips below Big Spruce, darkness stretches across the sky, and an endless blanket of stars unfolds.
So on a clear, moonless night, tip your face upwards to behold Vermont’s sublime lightshow on display above you: glistening stars, fiery comets, and the luminescent Milky Way.
Why is the night sky here nearly unrivaled in its beauty? “The darker the location, the better we can see the stars—and Vermont has relatively low levels of light pollution,” says Mark Breen, senior meteorologist and planetarium director at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Since stars are extremely dim, even the most meager light source—like a lamp inside your house, the gleam of a lamppost down the street, or a city tens of miles away—can inhibit your view. “The rods and cones in your eyes are light receptors, and they have to relax in order to see faint objects,” Breen says. In the presence of light, your iris closes to restrict the amount of light that can enter, protecting your eyes from damage. The darker it is outside, the wider your iris opens, allowing your rods and cones to better detect faraway stars.
Another advantage? “The atmosphere is a little thinner up north, so you don’t have to look through quite as much air compared to in the south,” Breen says. “You’re gazing through a shorter layer of atmosphere.”
Finally, our famously fresh mountain air helps. “Because we have fewer cities, there aren’t as many pollution particulates in the air,” Breen says. “As a result, the sky is clearer and there is less interference, allowing even faint starlight to shine through.”
Pro Stargazing Tips
To fully enjoy the beauty of Vermont’s night sky, choose a strategic location: somewhere dark and ideally with a view of the southern horizon. Since we’re in the mountains, this means going up in elevation—walk out onto the Golf Course from the Cottage.
And bring along a star chart, guidebook (Breen’s pick: The Stars by H.A. Rey), or app—Breen uses Starwalk, which you can hold up to the sky to learn which stars are above you. It takes your eyes 10-20 minutes to adapt to the dark after light exposure, according to Breen, so once you know what you’re looking at, turn off your phone, look up, and let yourself be transported.