度假胜地观星—惬意无比 Stargazing at a 1)Resort, in Comfort

As the sun sets over the Atacama Desert in Chile each reliably cloudless night, 2)dazzling 3)ruby red and 4)garnet hues paint the volcanic Andes Mountain peaks in the eastern skyline, deepening almost 5)imperceptibly until they are 6)indistinguishable from black. That would be the grand 7)finale at many resort areas. But here, it is merely the opening act.

After the nearest star had set one evening last August, I peered through the 8)Meade 16-inch telescope in the 15-foot 9)observatory of the Hotel de Larache in San Pedro de Atacama to see the main attraction: the Alpha Centauri stars that, without the benefit of 10)magnification, look like one; the misty, yellow Swan Nebula; and the Scorpio 11)Constellation’s bi-winged Butterfly Cluster.

This remote desert, roughly 800 miles north of Santiago, offers some of the clearest views of the Milky Way in the world, making it a natural home to a cluster of high-tech research observatories used by international astronomers. The resorts at Atacama are no 12)outliers. Stargazing has increasingly become an alternative to traditional after-sundown dining and drinking at hotels and resorts. Call it night life for nerds.

“For people who live in the cities, the only way to see the stars in safety and in comfort without worrying about what might happen in the dark is at a resort,” said Rick Fienberg, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society, based in Washington.

I first encountered stargazing tourism several years ago at the Maui Resort and Spa in Hawaii, a 40-acre resort with 13)sweeping views of Kaanapali Beach. Instead of drinking 14)mai tais at the bar or attending a 15)luau, I joined Eddie Mahoney, an astronomer, who led our group of 12 to the roof of the hotel’s nine-story main building. The relatively high perch and resort lighting—designed to 16)angle down rather than shine up—preserved the dark setting for his three 50-minute nightly public stargazing sessions ($25 a person).

Mr. Mahoney 17)oriented us by pointing out the North Star, the Big and Little Dippers and the constellation Orion, all visible to the naked eye, of course. But what appeared to be a 18)fuzzy cluster in the sky became clear with binoculars: they were the seven stars in the Pleiades Group. And moving to the 16-inch reflector telescope, far-off planets come into the sharp focus you see in Hubble Space Telescope images: Saturn and its rings, as well as a 19)quartet of Jupiter’s moons precisely lined up beside it.

Newly in possession of a 14-inch computerized telescope, Mr. Mahoney still leads stargazing sessions, which he started 10 years ago. Some 6,000 gazers a year take his sky tour, according to the resort management. “I remind them that Earth is a starship, and we are just passing through,” said Mr. Mahoney, who distributes Starburst or Milky Way candies after the show.

That sense of floating through the galaxy is 20)underscored in the western United States, where low population density and favorable weather combine to make for particularly starry skies. Near Scottsdale, Arizona, the Boulders Resort 21)abjures the science of astronomy in favor of the lore of 22)astrology in its “Dining With the Stars” dinners held three times each year, on the 23)summer solstice and the spring and fall 24)equinox dates.

I had a chance to stargaze out west firsthand this spring during a visit to Colorado. After a day of 25)white water 26)kayaking I took part in a decidedly low-tech session at the new Viceroy Snowmass, an 27)opulent 173-room resort on the Snowmass ski slopes near Aspen. Instead of using an observatory or even a telescope, guests sat around a 28)bonfire on the pool deck, faces facing heavenward as the leader, Marieta Bialek, pointed out constellations and planets visible above the mountains.

With the planet Venus shining in the west, the overall order of the night sky emerged as the evening progressed. Taking in the 29)panoramic view of the sky was more 30)meditative than scientific, but rewarding nonetheless, especially when a 31)shooting star 32)streaked by.

“There’s a mystery and wonder about it,” said Ms. Bialek, leaning back in her chair to point out the constellation Cassiopeia. “Many people find comfort in the stars. As things are changing around them, the stars stay steady.”

That steadiness was evident in the Atacama region of Chile, where there is little night life to compete with the twinkling sky after dark. Nearby resorts that feature stargazing include Tierra Atacama, 33)a stone’s throw from Hotel de Larache, and Alto Atacama lodge, which offers guided stargazing nightly, except during full moon phases that 34)wash out the viewing.

Stargazing at Hotel de Larache is no mere 35)add-on. On my tour there, several gazers took along 36)Pisco sours from the bar to the fireside orientation involving charts and diagrams before navigating paths to the observatory marked in dim red to minimize light pollution. Inside, the 37)dome opened and 38)swiveled under the computerized direction of the scope as it lined up stars and constellations, which the six of us took turns viewing over the next hour, 39)murmuring oohs and aahs normally associated with fireworks and giving us plenty to marvel at over dinner after the show.