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Night sky Mongolia

Star Gazing In Mongolia

Although no part of Mongolia has been designated a dark sky reserve, park, community, or sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association, star gazing in Mongolia, experiencing the night skies, is one of the best experiences you can have …  as long as the weather behaves. Mongolia is the 19th largest country in the world, and with a population of only 3.2 million, it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. That means there’s plenty of glorious empty space with little light pollution – perfect for star gazing.

Star gazing in Mongolia

Image: EL guest Janette Asche

True, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s capital city, where half of the country’s population makes their home – then your view of the night sky won’t always be so impressive because of the impact of artificial light and other forms of pollution to cloud your view. (Of course, you could head to the Khurel Togoot Astronomical Observatory (trying saying that after a cup of Mongolian yak milk vodka) for uninterrupted night sky views. Mongolia’s astronomical observatory (its name translates into ‘bronze cauldron’) is located on Bogd Mountain about 15 km southeast of Ulaanbaatar. It was founded in 1957 during the first International Geophysical Year on the initiative of Mongolian astronomer S. Ninjbadgar in close cooperation with scientists from Russia and Germany.)

Air pollution is one of the most pressing issues facing Ulaanbaatar. It is one of the coldest capital cities in the world and is reliant, almost entirely, on coal for its heating (homes in the ger areas that surround the city to the north, east, and west (and where 60% of the city’s population live) are heated with stoves and apartments are generally heated by district heating from coal-powered combined heat and power stations) leading to dangerous levels of particulate matter (PM) during the winter months. The Green Development Strategic Action Plan For Ulaanbaatar 2020 report highlights that ‘very cold weather and low winds create an inversion which traps the pollution emitted from low heights within a shallow layer of air near the ground’ and that ‘high levels of CO2 emissions serve to exacerbate the inversion.’ One organisation working to end Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution crisis is The Breathe Mongolia Clean Air Coalition, an international team of professionals and everyday citizens. You can find out more about their work here – https://breathemongolia.org/.

 

Another challenge can be the unpredictable weather. Mongolia can experience four seasons in one day (I sense a nodding of heads in agreement from those who have visited the country). We’ve all been there – a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event and in blows a windstorm.  Or thick mist. Or driving rain. Something to put a ‘dampener’ on your plans.  

Although cold, winter often has the clearest skies of any season. As long as the moon is on either side of being full, then wrap yourself up warm and be prepared to be amazed because when the sky is clear,  Mongolia is almost unrivalled as a stargazing destination. Look out for  Altan Gadaz (the north star), Doloon Burkhan (the Seven Gods – the Plough), Migid or Mushin (the Pleiades), Tengerin Zaadas (the Milky Way), and the beautiful Uuriin Tsolmon (morning star).

Star gazing in Mongolia

Image: EL guest Kairi Aun

We know that time in nature restores, soothes, heals, and connects. But light pollution – including that caused by tourist accommodation – harms wildlife and our ecosystems. That’s why International Dark Sky Week focuses on the positive impact of reducing lighting and turning off unnecessary lights. We have recently created a free nature club for Mongolian kids designed especially for kids based in an urban setting. You can find out more here – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/introducing-our-heroes-of-nature-eco-club/ – but one of our monthly projects will be focusing on light pollution and getting kids to design activism posters designed to educate tourism accommodation in Mongolia.

 

Of course, if you do go star gazing in Mongolia with a Mongolian be prepared for some spitting. What?   In Mongolia, a shooting star is seen as an omen of death (yes, really). In shamanism, each star represents a person. We each have an energy line and a shooting star is that person’s energy line dying out. If a Mongolian sees a shooting star they will basically spit and say ‘it’s not mine.’ It doesn’t make for the most romantic of evenings.

Still, wrap up warm and brave the elements for a spectacular nighttime show. Star gazing in Mongolia really does give you a healthy sense of wonder. Dark Sky Mongolia is a company local to Mongolia who host star gazing experiences. You can find out more on their Linktree page here. Alternatively, all of the experiences we offer give our guests independence and flexibility for their own exploration including time for star gazing. So if you’re interested in star gazing in Mongolia then why not have a look at the range of trips we offer?

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes
Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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