This post is a part of Geek Takeover Week 2013.

This is a guest post by Juno Kim, travel writer, photographer, trained mechanical engineer, and life-long nerd who left her cubic farm to reclaim her creativity and inspiration. She enjoys digging information passionately if it interests her, like astronomy, comedy shows, and musicals. Currently she’s on a quest to find the place where she can call ‘home’ while publishing her work on Runaway Juno and Master Travel Photo.

sir issac's loft

Traveling the world is glamorous. It’s what I have been hoping to do since I was a kid. I have been fortunate enough to have many life changing experiences on the road, but as an astronomy enthusiast, I have to admit most of the unforgettable experiences were related to science. To celebrate this year’s Geek Week, I present to you the five finest travel destinations for science nerds!

1. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Seeing the Southern Cross was one of the main reasons I decided to visit New Zealand. Among all the dark night skies I’ve seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, Lake Tekapo presented the finest and most amazing night sky I’ve ever seen in my life to this day.

lake tekapo new zealand

The small town of Lake Tekapo is known for two reasons: as a transit place between the Southern Alps and Queenstown, and for the Mount John Observatory. It is a good place to rest for a day to break your long journey. But most of all, the whole town is quite serious at preventing light pollution. The night sky is protected by law, complete with hoods on each street lamp. Thanks to that effort, Lake Tekapo is one of the darkest places on earth.

2. Socorro, New Mexico, USA

Do you remember the scene from the movie Contact, in which Ellie drives fast through the series of big radio telescopes, when she heard the repeated signals from Vega? The Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro, New Mexico, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, is the very place where they filmed a big portion of Contact.

socorro new mexico very large array

The town of Socorro is quite gloomy, frankly, I wouldn’t have been there without any good reason. VLA is fifty miles west out in the desert from the town center. They offer a free guided tour on the first Saturday of each month, lead by enthusiastic students and staff members. Visiting the control room, going through the ‘Jodie Foster door’, and meeting the scientists are all included in the program. On other days, it’s possible to take a self-guided tour with the help of interpretive signs.

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3. Iceland

Have you ever dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights? Of course you have. Me too. When my friends were decorating their rooms with posters of pop stars and Leonardo DiCaprio, my room was like a small exhibition hall of a science fair. All the posters from science magazines, especially related to astronomy, were hanging on my walls. I had a few favorites among my extensive collection: our Solar System, colliding galaxies, and the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights). My schedule book was also full of drawings of our Solar System, solar wind, and constellations. I remember I had a page dedicated to the science behind the Aurora Borealis. I couldn’t believe the dark sky could turn into green and purple.

northern lights iceland

My grand opportunity came last winter. On our way back to the US from Europe, we decided to stop in Iceland because not only it was the cheapest flight, but also because November was a great season for catching the Northern Lights.

On the third night, the solar wind reached level 4 by the Aurora forecast (10 is the strongest). We drove out from Reykjavik city center. About 20 minutes out of the city, we found a dark enough spot to watch this magnificent scene unfold. The various shapes of dancing color made by solar wind decorated the sky like green and purple drapes. I mounted my camera on the ground, and kept shooting to capture the moment. It was, hands down, the happiest night of my life.

4. Poland

Poland gave birth to two of the most well known scientists: Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Novel Prize, and Nicolas Copernicus, who formulated the heliocentric model of the universe. Marie Curie was born and studied in Warsaw, and later spent a majority of her time in Paris. There’s a museum dedicated to her in Warsaw where she was born.

Copernicus at Jagiellonian University

Krakow was where Nicolas Copernicus studied. He transferred to the University of Krakow from his hometown Thorn. His time in Krakow gave him a thorough grounding in the mathematical-astronomical knowledge taught at the university (arithmetic, geometry, geometric optics, cosmography, and theoretical and computational astronomy). Although there’s nothing left to see, I enjoyed feeling the presence of one of the greatest astronomers in history.

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Furthermore, there’s a monument of Copernicus at Jagiellonian University’s church. This is memorable because it’s quite unusual for churches to have a statue of a scientist, especially one who wrote a book against the church’s teachings. The heliocentric model was highly advanced theory in the 16th century. Technically Copernicus didn’t have a problem with the Roman Catholic Church during his lifetime (because the book was published after his death). Maybe that was a smart move; we all know Galileo was under house arrest later in his life due to this belief.

5. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA

My interest in the Manhattan Project started with Richard P. Feynman. I always admired his talent on teaching, but never knew his involvement with important projects like the Manhattan Project or Challenger’s explosion investigation. I got to learn a lot about Feynman by listening to his popular autobiographies ‘Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman’ and ‘Why Do You Care What People Think?’. His intelligence, wittiness, and curiosity about the world were quite fascinating.

oak ridge tenenessee manhattan project

I was fortunate enough to encounter Room 109 in Santa Fe, where scientists for the Manhattan Project first met, and the Trinity Site in New Mexico during my road trip last year (same trip when I visited VLA).

We stopped at Oak Ridge, Tennessee to visit our friend’s parents, but I didn’t know the town was home to the other half of the Manhattan Project facilities (other than Los Alamos where Feynman worked). The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE) had an extensive exhibition, The Story of Oak Ridge, panorama of historical photographs, documents and artifacts explaining the Manhattan Project and the construction of Oak Ridge. They offer a tour to the actual Oak Ridge facilities for US citizens only.

Some of the technical information was too difficult for me to understand, but to see the story of war that was quite closely related to Korea’s history was like reading a history book from the other side. If the atomic bomb wasn’t successful, who knows how the world would be by now.

Juno, I appreciate you sharing these geeky destinations and your wonderful photography with us for Geek Takeover Week. You can follow Juno’s continuing adventures through Twitter @RunawayJuno, her Facebook Fan Page, and blog RunawayJuno.com.