A Whole New World
Visitors to Hungary spend a lot of time looking up, especially in Budapest. There is the towering Neo-Gothicism of the Parliament building, the Castle District rising above the Buda, numerous monuments and buildings in a range of architectural styles cause endless rubbernecking.
As impressive as these man made creations can be, they are also a distraction from the most impressive view in Hungary, the sky. For most visitors, the sky is something that serves as a backdrop, whether deep blue, stormy grey or filled with white floating clouds.
Because it always seems to be there, it is hardly noticed. As for nighttime, this a time when the sky cannot even be seen. In the evening, strollers along the Danube embankment, gawk at the jaw dropping sight of Buda and Pest’s waterfronts recreated as a shimmering fantasy of electric glitter. It is magical, but like all magic based upon illusion.
The lights are artificial as is the urban landscape, but who would even cares to take notice. Obscured by thousands of flickering lights, the sky and stars have barely been visible since the invention of mass illumination.
For those who really want to see the night sky a trip to the countryside is in order. From Budapest the northern Uplands are a good place to start. Here the air is cool, crisp and clear. Though the uplands are not that far from Budapest, these hills do a good job of keeping artificial light out.
They also have the added advantage of being higher in altitude, thus even though galaxies and stars are thousands of light years away, being a few hundred meters closer offers a clearer field of view.
A visit to the area close to Matraszentimre, in the western part of the Matra Hills, is a good place to start looking up to the heavens. It’s no secret that 944 meter high Piszketeto Mountain offered such an excellent place to study the sky that the Piszketeto Mountain Station in 1958 was built there.
This station is part of the Konkoly Observatory operated out of Budapest by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The station today consists of four high powered telescopes that have allowed astronomers to spot hundreds of small planets.
Most famously, in 2002 an asteroid belt discovered from the station was named for the mountain.While astronomy research takes place at the observatory, visitors can do their own field research by hiking up peaks in the western Matras to gain incredible glimpses of the Milky Way, far off galaxies and an astounding array of stars.
The effect can be dazzling. It’s like seeing a whole new world for the first time. An unforgettable experience that gives an idea of what the world was once like and still is today, when the lights are turned off.
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