Belize astronomy – private island dark sky

Belize stargazing

Just off the island for a few days and I have something I have been looking forward to writing about!

Darin Laird and his wife Mary just joined us for their second Glover’s Reef trip last week, and I am so glad I was on the island with them. Darin brought out a super nice telescope and it enhanced an already great week. For any astronomy buff who is thinking of joining us on our private island in Belize, you might want to do the same!

Darin was into astronomy when he was a kid; his parents bought him a telescope when he was young. In the year 2000 he finally had enough money to purchase a good scope (he used his entire tax return). He was living in Austin, Texas at the time, and he joined the local astronomy club. He reports that’s when he really started learning about the different objects of the sky, not just the planets, but also nebulae, galaxies, stars, and star clusters.

He moved to Pittsburg (where they still live) the next year and kept up with his astronomy a few years more, but then he pretty much quit in 2003. Live took over, I guess. Seven years later he and Mary came out to Glover’s Reef with us; they were there for the New Years trip in 2010. He told me that one night he woke up to go to the bathroom and voila! he looked out off of his cabana porch and saw the Southern Cross for the first time! He was blown away!

He thought “I wish I had a telescope here.” So when he got home be purchased a really nice telescope that he could travel with. He bought a Tele-vue 85, which is an 85 mm scope. And he started counting the days until he could return to Glover’s Reef to look at the sky.

He thought a lot about how to travel with a scope. He decided he would only carry it on, as it is so expensive he didn’t want to risk theft or damage. So the scope has to fit into carry-on size luggage. He does check his tripod and his mount. But the scope and eyepieces all fit in his special carry-on case. He knew that theft wasn’t a problem with theft on the island as he had been here before.

He also has an 8 inch Dobsonian and a 5 inch Mac-Newtonian scope, but he leaves them at home because they are too bulky.

He says that our Limiting Magnitude is about 6 on the island. He explained that the Limiting Magnitude is how dense of a star you can see with the naked eye. He says a Limiting Magnitude of 6 is about as dark as you can get.

When he got here last week, everyone on the trip was very interested in his telescope. His trip leader, Charlie Woodward, told him that no one had ever brought a telescope on one of our trips to his knowledge, and I agree. We looked at Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. We also got to see all of the deep sky objects near the Southern Cross.

Darin says there were two highlights for him, astronomy-wise, about his trip this year: the Eta Carinae nebula and the Omega Centauri globular cluster. This is the first time he has gotten to see these objects because you have to be far south, with a dark sky, to see them. At Glover’s Reef we are at 17 degrees North, and quite a bit of the southern sky is available.

Another highlight was Mars, which is currently in opposition, so it was a bright and as big as it is going to be this year. Also, we had a new moon for his trip, so the stars were not washed out. He also thought that the Orion nebula was absolutely gorgeous. He said it was the best he has ever seen it since our sky was so dark.

He looked at the two galaxies in the Big Dipper, M81 and M82. He could see them together in one eyepiece. He looks at these often near Pittsburg, but he said that our dark sky made them stand out more than he has ever seen them.

Every once in a while a guest of ours shows up with something to teach us, instead of it being always the other way around. Thanks Darin for making last weeks’ trip so much better! [photos by Larry Staples]

Belize astronomy

2 thoughts on “Belize astronomy – private island dark sky

  • March 26, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Hi. I truly like your article. I am an amateur astronomer. I have very sophisticated equipment to image the wonders of the night sky.
    Here in Canada, some people travel south in search for dark skies. Light pollution and other factors make people search for the ideal astronomic place. With new German Equatorial Mounts, and advanced optics, many amateur astronomers are observing or imaging the night sky using remotely controlled telescopes.
    I have read so much about astronomy in Belize, but surprisingly, there is no venue dedicated to astronomy down there.
    My dream is to create a humble setup with cabins, were people passionate about astronomy can stay and use state of the art equipment to observe the wonders of both Southern and Northern Hemispheres.
    I have been in Chile, Atacama desert observing the and imaging the Magellanic Clouds, Tucane 47, etc, but At the same time I wanted too see the marvels of the Northern Hemisphere.
    Belize offers it. An small country, not highly developed, where light pollution still does not cloud the night sky.
    Would you know a person or a group who would be interested in running in Belize an astronomic camp solely dedicated to amateur astronomers?
    I am willing to bring down my equipment to materialize this dream.
    Would you please let me know the name of the place where these observations of the southern crux took place and how far it is from mainland?
    Look forward to hear from you.

    • July 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      Manuel, I am sorry I did not answer earlier, a reply at this late date is little help. I thought we had comments turned off, the best way to communicate with us is through email: However, I am very happy to hear from you and glad I did find your message 4 months later. The guy that this article is about had the same feeling, that Belize had a fabulous dark sky and it is not utilized by astronomers. Although our island does have a great night sky, it might not be suitable for what you are looking for. Because we have waves breaking directly on our shore, our island is covered in salt spray, which is very hard on anything metal or electronic. However, a quick visit would be OK, maybe you can come down and check it out for yourself to see if it would work for a group of astronomers. You can see the Southern Cross from our island if the weather permits it several times a year, but always I see it in March, when I am there. Our island is called Long Caye at Glover’s Reef, and is located 35 miles off shore. To find the island put this into Google Earth: 16.75559,-87.77957. The way that I found the times to observe the Southern Cross is from the star charts in the back of the book “The Stars” by H.A. Rey If you would like to come down please see more info about visiting our island here: Thanks, Lucy Wallingford

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