Bortle 1: The Best Skies in the World for Astrophotography

To reveal the real colors of the night skies, you need to find good dark skies. The best sky quality for astrophotography is found in locations classified as Bortle Class 1 on the Bortle scale, which measures night sky brightness.

A Bortle 1 sky has a sky quality meter (SQM) reading of 21.99 to 22, meaning it is among the least light-polluted places on Earth. Under Bortle 1 skies, you can capture celestial waveforms that are visible due to the Earth’s atmosphere and deep space objects — things like aurora, zodiacal light, and airglow.

A sky quality meter (SQM) is one way to measure the darkness of a night sky. Image by Lamiot and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Imagine standing under a sky so pristine, so untouched by light pollution, that the stars shine with unparalleled brilliance. This celestial haven is known as a Bortle 1 sky, where the sky quality reaches its zenith. In this article, we will delve into the enchanting realm of Bortle 1 skies, exploring the deep-sky objects (DSOs) and celestial waveforms that are visible to the naked eye in this exceptional astronomical environment.

The Quality of a Bortle 1 Sky

The Bortle Scale, developed by John E. Bortle, is a widely used system for classifying the darkness of the night sky. It ranges from Class 1 (the darkest) to Class 9 (the most light-polluted). A Bortle 1 sky signifies an area with minimal light pollution, often found in remote regions, far from urban centers.

This image illustrates the Bortle scale, which measures the impact of light pollution on the dark skies at a given location. It shows, from left to right, the increase in the number of stars and night-sky objects visible in excellent dark sky conditions compared with cities.  The illustration is a modification of an original photograph taken at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, a place with excellent dark-sky conditions, perfect for astronomy. Image credit: ESO/P. Horálek, M. Wallner and licensed under CC BY 4.0.

In such pristine conditions, the naked eye is capable of discerning intricate details of celestial wonders that are otherwise obscured by light pollution.

Finding a Bortle 1 Location

If you’d like to see if there’s a Bortle 1 location near you in the United States, GO ASTRONOMY has a great list of Bortle 1 sites in the US.

ClearDarkSky also offers a handy Light Pollution Map you can use to browse for dark skies near you anywhere in the world.

Deep-Sky Objects Visible to the Naked Eye

The Milky Way

In a Bortle 1 sky, the Milky Way reveals itself in all its grandeur. Its soft band of light stretches across the night sky, sprinkled with countless stars, nebulae, and clusters. Gazing upward, you will witness a captivating tapestry of cosmic dust and celestial jewels.

Milky Way Arch Panorama Above Mono Lake (Bortle 1)
Canon EOS Ra | Ioptron Sky Guider Tracker | By Roi Levi

Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

One of the most breathtaking sights in a Bortle 1 sky is the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest spiral galactic neighbor. Spanning over six times the size of the full moon, this majestic galaxy appears as a faint, elongated blur of light. With patience and a keen eye, one can perceive its core and perhaps even trace the spiral arms.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31) ZWO 2600MC | Red Cat | Skywatcher Tracker| By Roi Levi
Location: Nevada Valley Of fire (Bortle 3)

Orion Nebula (M42)

The Orion Nebula, situated within the iconic constellation of Orion, is a stellar nursery where new stars are born. In a Bortle 1 sky, the nebula’s wispy tendrils and intricate details become readily apparent. The central Trapezium Cluster, composed of young, hot stars, is also discernible, adding to the awe-inspiring nature of this celestial wonder.

Canon EOS Ra | Sigma 28mm | By Roi Levi | Location Israel Pharan Valley (Bortle 2)
Orion Nebula. By Mike Selby and Mark Hanson
Shot in LRGB on our Planewave Delta Rho 350 at Observatorio El Sauce, Chile
Orion Nebula and Horsehead Nebula By Mike Selby and Matt Dieterich, Shot in LRGB and H alpha. OTA Skywatcher 80mm at Observatorio El Sauce, Chile

Pleiades (M45)

Also known as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster is a group of young, hot stars that form a distinct pattern in the night sky. In a Bortle 1 sky, the Pleiades cluster reveals its true splendor, with its brightest stars surrounded by a delicate haze of nebulosity.

M45. Credit: Mike Selbi

Celestial Waveforms

Apart from the DSOs, a Bortle 1 sky allows observers to witness various celestial waveforms with the naked eye. These transient phenomena occur naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Here are a few examples:

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis: The captivating light shows known as the Northern and Southern Lights, respectively, occur when charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetosphere. In a Bortle 1 sky, these ethereal displays of shimmering colors dance across the horizon, leaving spectators in awe of their ever-changing patterns.

Aurora Borealis & Orion Constellation in Hydrogen Alpha | By Roi Levi
Location Hofn Westerhorn Iceland (Bortle 1)

Victor Lima – Aurora and Milky Way Vesterhorn Hofn (Bortle 1) Canon 6Da | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II

Zodiacal Light

This faint, cone-shaped glow is caused by sunlight scattered off interplanetary dust in the plane of our solar system. In a Bortle 1 sky, during the right conditions and at the right time of year, the zodiacal light becomes visible shortly after sunset or before dawn, extending upwards from the western or eastern horizon.

Zodiacal Light. Credit: Petr Horálek & Tomáš Slovinskýin (FB). Location: Chile
Orion and Zodiacal Light. Photo by Petr Horálek. Location: Maldive
Orion and Zodiacal Light. Credit: Petr Horálek. Location: Maldive


Airglow is a faint emission of light caused by various chemical reactions in Earth’s upper atmosphere. In a Bortle 1 sky, this phenomenon can manifest as a subtle, diffused glow that adds a mystical ambiance to the night sky.

Airglow and Milky Way Arch | By Ralf Rhoner (FB, IG) | Location: Northern California | Canon Eos Ra | Sigma 28mm
Airglow & Milky Way Tail
Canon Eos Ra | Sigma Art 28mm | MonoLake USA | Bortle 1


The wonders of a Bortle 1 sky are truly remarkable. With minimal light pollution, the naked eye can witness the grandeur of deep-sky objects and experience the captivating celestial waveforms that grace our night sky. Whether it’s the intricate details of distant galaxies or the ephemeral dance of the Northern Lights, a Bortle 1 sky offers a window into the vastness and beauty of the universe.

So, next time you find yourself in a remote location blessed with Bortle 1 sky quality, take a moment to look up and be mesmerized by the breathtaking sights awaiting your gaze.

About the author: Roi Levi is a visual storyteller, landscape astrophotographer, photo tour guide, lecturer, and ambassador. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.