Today's Most Watched Stories
- Brazilian fans clash in hideous fight during football match (GRAPHIC PHOTOS, VIDEO)
- South Africa: Arrangements and Schedule of President Nelson Mandela’s State Funeral
- Russia-Ukraine talks fuel suspicion, anger in Kiev
- Last Tango in Halifax producer sells majority stake to French company
- Manchester United v Everton – as it happened | Daniel Harris
- Subscribe to Site-wide RSS Feed
- Subscribe to TOP NEWS feed rss
Category Archives: Astronomy
National park and Kielder area declared largest ‘dark sky park’ in Europe, with highest possible rating for star-watching conditions
The last stretch of England that rolls and dips from Hadrian’s wall to the Scottish border loses none of its beauty in the winter months.
Yet as the days get shorter, the hikers, birdwatchers and other regulars dwindle. Even a calendar filled with fungal forays, hedge-laying courses and red squirrel drop-ins fails to keep their numbers up.
But now, Northumberland can boast a new attraction, one residents hope will bring more visitors to the region in the coldest months of the year.
Northumberland national park, and the adjoining Kielder water and forest park, have been declared Europe’s largest “dark sky park”. The award recognises the profound darkness that makes nearly 580 square miles (1,500 sq km) of the county an ideal territory from which to stare up at the night sky. The park was awarded gold-tier status by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in the US, the highest rating given for stargazing conditions.
The designation ends a two-year process during which councils, residents and local businesses audited outside lighting, took more than 300 readings with light meters and sought to reduce light pollution. The benefits extend beyond amateur astronomers and astro-tourists by reducing lighting bills, boosting the local economy, and protecting the nighttime environment for wildlife.
“Dark sky parks are important because the night sky is perhaps the most universal part of our environment. All humans throughout history have gazed up at the starry sky and wondered about it,” said Martin Rees, the astronomer royal.
“Clearly the dark sky is crucial for amateur astronomers. But it’s not just the astronomical community that cares about this.
“Surely most people value it, just as nearly all of us, and not just ornithologists, would feel deprived if songbirds disappeared from our gardens.”
Dead Ringers star and amateur astronomer Jon Culshaw filmed an episode of The Sky at Night at Kielder observatory in the park.
“It was incredible to witness light levels fall to such a depth that you would swear the stars were casting shadows,” he said. “It’s a sad thought that such genuinely dark-sky sites are becoming increasingly rare. We must value them, preserve them and ensure they can be enjoyed by as many visitors as possible.”
The IDA has also named the Isle of Coll the first dark sky island in Scotland, and only the second in the world. Sark, the smallest of the four main Channel islands, became the first in 2011.
Coll, in the Inner Hebrides, is a three-hour ferry trip from Oban on the west coast of Scotland. About 200 people live on the island, which has three roads and no streetlights.
Julie Oliphant, manager of the Coll Hotel, helped to organise the island’s bid. She hoped the award would bring more visitors to the island and shorten the low season. “When Sark got theirs, we thought, well, we’re easily as dark as they are, it’ll be a breeze. But we had to have people go out and do a light audit and measure the darkness and compile an application.”
Oliphant does not consider herself an amateur astronomer, but her interest has been piqued by her work on the application. “I used to stop while walking home, look up, and say, ‘God that’s amazing.’ Now I look up and go, ‘God that’s amazing, what can I see?’”
There are encouraging signs that dark sky parks help to boost local economies in the colder months. A survey of 35 guesthouses and B&Bs by Forestry Commission Scotland found that astro-tourism pushed off-season winter takings up by £40,000 around the UK’s first dark sky park, in Galloway.
John Brown, Scotland’s astronomer royal, said he was delighted to hear of Coll’s designation. “Coll, and its nearby neighbour Tiree, are well known for being among the sunniest places in Scotland and high on the UK list. This also implies a high ranking in the starry-night stakes,” he said. “The remote location and low population of these islands gives them a special opportunity to have our darkest as well as our clearest night skies.”
Steve Owens, an amateur astronomer who worked with Northumberland and Coll on their applications to the IDA, said his advice to those keen to try some stargazing was to head to a dark sky park, take some time to adapt to the dark and simply look up with the naked eye.
“Your eyes will adapt and you’ll see thousands more stars, and you’ll see the Milky Way, which you’ll never see in a city,” he said.
To take the hobby further, he recommends a pair of binoculars and a good guide to the stars. “There are many things in the night sky that look better through binoculars than through a telescope, like the Pleiades, the Beehive cluster and the Orion nebula. The big, bright, fuzzy blobs stand out really well and fill the field of view of binoculars.
“But what a pair of binoculars will do most importantly is teach you whether you enjoy standing outside at night in the freezing cold for hours on end,” he said. “If the answer to that is a no, then don’t buy a telescope.”
theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds