A geographer by training, Nicolas Bourgeois is Deputy Director General of the Pic du Midi. It’s an exceptional place to stargaze and ‘fall into the sky’. Read our interview.
France.fr: What makes the Pic du Midi a particularly special site for stargazing?
Nicolas Bourgeois: Observing the stars is above all a contemplative activity. Here, at 2,877 metres above sea level, you enjoy a wonderful combination of the earthly and celestial realms. From the observatory, which dates from the late-19th century, you get the most beautiful panorama of the Pyrenees. And just above them, you can admire the ballet of the stars of the Milky Way. The Pic is the symbol of all this space of contemplation of the stars. This said, you get a pretty great show from the other peaks and nearby mountain passes too.
France.fr: Can you also enjoy the starry sky from lower down, in the valley?
Nicolas: Absolutely. The Pic du Midi is the leader of a group of territories working together to reduce light pollution. Today, half of the department of Hautes-Pyrénées is involved in this process, changing public lighting. A huge starry sky reserve has been created, which now covers 3,300km². To enjoy this heavenly setting, you can call a guide to accompany your night out – but you can also simply lie in the grass and open your eyes wide.
“For millennia, every human being who looks at the stars has asked the same metaphysical question: what’s my place in the universe?”
France.fr: But without a telescope, surely you don’t see much?
Nicolas: You absolutely do. The naked eye is, in itself, a very good tool for observing the stars. If you add a sun lounger, you’re already very well equipped to enjoy the show! When you lie under the stars, you feel as if you are falling upwards, falling ‘into the sky’. It’s a very intense experience, which can arouse powerful emotions. For millennia, every human being who looks at the stars has asked the same metaphysical question: what’s my place in the universe?
France.fr: What’s it like to spend a night at the Pic du Midi?
Nicolas: It's an unforgettable experience. Up there, there are only 27 people, with a guide available all night long. As the hours go by, the starry sky changes in appearance as the Earth moves. On site, visitors can ask any questions they want, and also use telescopes. But it’s not about overwhelming them with scientific data. The best engine to transmit knowledge is wonder. The lucky ones are those who come in the summer, when you get the most beautiful skies, as Earth is very inclined on its axis. There are then constellations that appear in the south, such as Sagittarius – not to mention the many shooting stars, up to 60 per hour during the Perseids.
France.fr: And if you come during the day, is it still worth it?
Nicolas: There’s no risk of being disappointed! You can then enjoy visiting the planetarium. It’s the highest in Europe, in the oldest dome in the world… a great tool, open all day. We also project films there. This summer, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first step on the Moon, spectators have been able to watch a documentary about the Apollo missions. In September, an astronomical observatory dedicated to the general public is set to open. You’ll leave with photos of galaxies or nebulae that you will have taken yourself.
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