Category Archives: dark skies

BACK GARDEN ASTRONOMY WEEK LAUNCHES


Exmoor National Park – an International Dark Sky Reserve – is teaming up with local businesses for Back Garden Astronomy Week (2-10 February), BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s new campaign designed to inspire the nation to discover the wonders of stargazing.

People are invited to sign up in advance at www.skyatnightmagazine.com/backgarden to receive a free 50-page digital starter pack and newsletter, showing them how to find some of the most alluring objects in the night sky, all visible from the back garden with just a pair of binoculars.

Followers of Exmoor National Park on Facebook or Twitter (@ExmoorNP), or readers of their dark skies newsletter (sign up at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/stargazing), could also be in with a chance of winning some great prizes over the course of the week. Wild About Exmoor will be giving away a star-studded guided night walk for up to six people up Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor. Those wishing to explore the night sky a little deeper and further during their next stay on Exmoor could win a week’s free hire of an amazing 6-inch Skywatcher Dobsonian telescope from Dark Sky Telescope Hire.

Chris Bramley, Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine, said: “We’re really excited about this new opportunity to celebrate some of the best sights the night sky has to offer and to help make astronomy more accessible to a wider audience. It’s great that some fantastic partners have joined us in the project, including Exmoor National Park, who have some great giveaways lined up for us.”

Exmoor National Park was designated as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011, in recognition of the darkness of the sky and work to limit light pollution. The dark skies are valued and protected by the Exmoor National Park Authority, who also run the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, taking place from 14 October to 3 November 2019.

Katrina Munro, who coordinates the Festival, said: “People have long visited Exmoor by day for its incredible landscapes and tranquillity, and now more and more are discovering the many wonders of its night skies. We hope that, through this initiative, more budding astronomers will be inspired to come and discover what makes Exmoor so very special for stargazing.”

Look out for a four-page feature on astrophotography in the new issue of Exmoor Magazine, out imminently!

PHOTO: Paul Howell Pictor Images

DARK SKIES POETRY COMPETITION WINNERS

Winners were announced last week of Exmoor National Park Authority’s Dark Skies Poetry competition. The poetry competition, which attracted over 300 entries, was part of the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, which ran for two weeks at the end of October. Events including night walks, family discovery events and planetarium sessions, were attended by over 3,000 people.

Katrina Munro at Exmoor National Park Authority, who coordinated the festival, said: “We were delighted that so many people took the time to write and submit a poem. The tranquillity of the darkness, and the stars, moon and planets are such a source of inspiration for all ages. It’s important that people appreciate the significance of dark skies to our understanding of our place in the universe, as well as for our night-time creatures.”

Exmoor National Park is a designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Planning restrictions and lighting recommendations are used to help protect the area from any increases in light pollution, which can have an adverse effect on the environment and wildlife.

The entries were judged by poet Mark Totterdell, whose latest book of poems, Mapping, is available from www.indigodreams.co.uk. Mark said: “I enjoyed having the opportunity to read all these poems, and it was very hard to pick the winners from over 300 entries. Many of the poems contained striking images and memorable phrases that stuck in my mind and vividly transported me to the moor at night.”
There were ten winners spread over three age categories. As well as having their entries placed on public display in the National Park Centres at Lynmouth, Dulverton and Dunster, the poets will also receive a dark skies goody bag including a Glow in the Dark beanie hat from competition sponsors Sunday Afternoons UK and astronomy prizes from Astronomy Now magazine.

Winners in the under 11 category will also receive a signed copy of the newly published book Jacob Starke Loves The Dark, by Peta Rainford, who used to live on Exmoor. The book is on sale at the National Park Centres.

Rachel Rudd, who won a prize in the adult category, along with one of her pupils at Bampton School, where she teaches, said: “I’m really pleased to win a prize, it was great fun doing poetry with the children and watching their ideas blossom. They created some really inspiring poetry and I never thought in a light year that I’d win! It’s wonderful to share the applause with Jonah as he wrote such a great poem.”

The winners are:
·        Under 11s category – James Allenby from St Dubricius School, Porlock, Jonah Kettleborough from Bampton School, and Lyla Poole from Williton.
·        11-15s category – Zach Spelman and Beth Melton-Baguley, from Ilfracombe Academy, and Henry Earp, from Kings Hall Taunton.
·        Adult category – Angie Butler, from Penzance, David Tilley, from Withypool and Rachel Rudd, from Barnstaple.

PHOTO: Jonah Kettleborough, Bampton School, with Katrina Munro

‘BIG DIPPER’ CAMPAIGN WILL HELP FESTIVAL REACH STAR POTENTIAL

Exmoor National Park is supporting a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of light pollution and help conserve our dark night skies, set to play a starring role in the region’s Dark Skies Festival starting this week (17 October–4 November).

The ‘Big Dipper’ campaign is the brainchild of the Dark Sky Alliance, a national group made up of conservationists, astronomers and tourist operators, including a number of National Parks. With the nights drawing in, and over 40 Festival events poised to get underway, it’s a timely reminder of the need to limit excess light pollution to ensure Exmoor’s starry night skies can continue to be experienced to their full.

Exmoor is one of only a handful of internationally accredited Dark Sky Reserves, making it one of the best places in the country for stargazing. It means that the amount of light pollution within and around the National Park is tightly controlled, so shooting stars, constellations, planets and the Milky Way are all easily visible with the naked eye or just a pair of binoculars.

Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is coordinating the Festival, said: “Exmoor is one of the few places in Britain where you can see our night skies in all their stellar glory, but to get the best out of the experience it helps to be guided by an expert.

“From astro-themed family party nights at Wimbleball Lake and a touring pop-up Planetarium, to wild swims, night runs and moonlit hilltop walks, this year’s Festival has something for everyone, from the adventurous to the curious. Last year many events sold out, so we would urge people to book without delay on the Exmoor National Park website or our National Park Centres.”

As part of the Big Dipper campaign, property owners are being urged to consider how much outside lighting they use and ensure where possible that lamps are dipped downwards.

Many outside lights, especially LED floodlights and security lights, can be too bright and installed in such a way that much of the light is directed up into the night sky. This contributes to the orangey-white sky glow above our towns and cities, which spreads out into the countryside, spoiling the night-time view.

The campaign has already won backing from the BAA Commission for Dark Skies, along with Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who said: “It’s important that efforts are sustained to cut light pollution further so we can all marvel at the night sky wherever we may live. This campaign deserves wide support.”

Pamela Morris, Senior Landscape Officer for Exmoor National Park, added: “Simple steps, like dipping outdoor lighting and limiting the use of more powerful security lights, can have a big impact on our view of the stars. The night time environment is a crucial natural resource for people, wildlife and also astro-tourism, and we look forward to celebrating its many wonders at this year’s Dark Skies Festival.”

The Big Dipper campaign is asking people to:

• Ensure lights point down and are fully shielded.
• Only illuminate areas you need to and don’t leave lights on all night – use a timer or motion sensor.
• Employ lighting that is no brighter than necessary.
• If possible don’t use LEDs emitting bright white/blue light, but rather warmer colours.

The power of a light is best characterised by its lumens output, usually listed on the packaging.  About 500 lumens is ample to illuminate a back garden.  Many LED products also state the light’s colour temperature. Units of 3,000K and below, which produce a warm white colour, are less harmful to the night-time environment than 4,000K and 5,000K lights.

For advice on minimising light pollution visit www.britastro.org/dark-skies or darksky.org/lighting/lighting-basics/

PHOTO: Dunkery Beacon by Keith Trueman

DARK SKIES OPENING AND CHILDREN’S POETRY COMPETITION

700 students from Ilfracombe will be treated to a 360-degree immersive planetarium experience for the opening day of the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival next month (17 October), thanks to a generous donation from the Ilfracombe Rotary Club.

Inside a mobile planetarium, the children will be taken on a 3D journey around the wonders of the solar system by an experienced astronomer. A further two ticketed public planetarium sessions will take place at Ilfracombe Academy in the evening, followed by guided stargazing outside.

It’s hoped the experience will provide plenty of inspiration for entries to the Festival’s Dark Skies Poetry Competition. The winners, as judged by award-winning local poet Mark Totterdell, will receive prizes courtesy of Sunday Afternoons and Astronomy Now magazine for the following three age categories: under 11s, 11-15 and over 16s. Anyone wishing to enter should send their poem to info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or ‘Dark Skies Poetry Competition, Exmoor House, Dulverton, TA22 9HL.’ The deadline is 17 November.

Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is coordinating the Festival, said: “We hope the competition will inspire everyone to look up at our starry skies, identify planets and constellations and capture the sense of wonder that unfolds. There are ten prizes to be won and the winning poems will be put on public display around Exmoor.”

The pop-up planetarium will later appear at Dunster Tithe Barn on Saturday 3 November, alongside an astrophotography exhibition by Paul Howel of Pictor Images and a chance to try solar-gazing or star-gazing with Exmoor Stargazers. It’s one of 40 events set to take place at venues across the National Park from 17 October – 4 November, aimed at everyone from seasoned stargazers to beginners and families. The full programme is available from National Park Centres in Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth or at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival .

Katrina added: “We are extremely grateful to the Ilfracombe Rotary Club for their kind sponsorship, allowing so many school children to have this wonderful experience, and to our festival sponsors, AirBand. With so many events across the region, we hope to inspire as many people as possible to discover the thrill of gazing up at one of the country’s darkest skies.”

DARK SKY DESTINATIONS RELEASES SHORT FILM EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF EXMOOR STARGAZING

Budding stargazers and astrophotographers can learn about the magic of Exmoor’s night skies thanks to a new short film released by West Country course provider, Dark Sky Destinations.

The five-minute film has been produced to give visitors to Exmoor, and potential course attendees, an idea of why the region is so special for astronomy.

To watch the film you can visit the Dark Sky Destinations website www.darkskydestinations.com/ or view it on Vimeo at vimeo.com/283467668.

On 8 September, Dark Sky Destinations will be holding its first astrophotography course on Exmoor.

Led by astronomer Will Gater, the evening course – entitled “An introduction to nightscape astrophotography” – will explore the art and science of how to capture beautiful nightscape photos with a DSLR camera. If the weather is good, the course will finish with a guided practical workshop under Exmoor’s exquisitely dark night skies where delegates will have a chance to put what they’ve learnt into practice with their own equipment.

A small number of spaces are left on the September course, so if you don’t want to miss out book your place via www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/an-introduction-to-nightscape-astrophotography-tickets-44449838664 (booking in advance is required).

Photo by Will Gator.

EXMOOR’S DARK SKIES FESTIVAL SET TO RETURN

Exmoor Dark Skies Festival 2018 will be returning this year with a two-week long programme of events from 20th October – 4th November aimed at inspiring young and old about the wonders of the night sky.

Exmoor is one of only a handful of internationally accredited Dark Sky Reserves, making it one of the best places in the world for stargazing. It means that the amount of light pollution within and around the National Park is tightly controlled, ensuring that the beauty of the night sky can be experienced to its full.

Events will take place across Exmoor suited to beginners and families, as well as those more experienced in astronomy. The line-up so far includes a fun family Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, a mobile planetarium offering an immersive 360 degree experience of the solar system, a night walk during the exciting Orionid meteor shower, during which up to 20 meteors an hour may be visible, as well as traditional stargazing and astronomy talks. And, for the more adventurous, there’ll be night time outdoor pursuits, such as night-navigation walks guided by National Park Rangers, night swimming and mountain-biking.

After many events sold out last year, Exmoor National Park Authority will be organising this year’s Festival over two weeks, giving everyone the chance to get involved regardless of when half term falls in their county. The full programme will be available this Summer on the Exmoor National Park website at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/stargazing.

Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is coordinating the Festival, said: “Millions of children across the globe will never see the Milky Way from their own homes. But from Exmoor, it can regularly be seen with the naked eye. We’re excited to be welcoming people back to the Festival for a second year to share in the wonderment of gazing up at one of the world’s darkest skies.”

As well as organising the Festival, the National Park is also working with partners across Europe on a new project called Atlantic Net Sky, which seeks to attract visitors from abroad by developing new offerings around astro-tourism. Collaborative working will be a key part in the success of the project, sharing knowledge and experience with other dark sky sites.

Robin Milton, Chairman of Exmoor National Park said, “The last 12 months have seen the continued promotion and protection of Exmoor’s amazing dark skies. In partnership with a number of external organisations and individuals, Exmoor National Park Authority has continued to monitor and protect the quality of Exmoor’s dark sky.

“By inspiring people, residents and visitors alike, to better understand and appreciate the rare qualities that the dark sky above Exmoor has to offer, the National Park seeks to maintain its status as one of the twelve Dark Sky Reserves recognised worldwide by the International Dark Sky Association.”

Tourism businesses and groups interested in getting involved in either the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival 2018 or the Atlantic Net Sky project can contact Katrina Munro, Economy Project Officer at the National Park, KJMunro@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk and 01398 322236.

PHOTO: Milky way over Exmoor National Park by Keith Trueman.

FAMILY STARGAZING WEEKEND

Bookings are now being taken for a residential Family Stargazing Weekend at Exmoor National Park’s Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning. Astronomy expert Seb Jay will be leading sessions including a telescope workshop and stargazing talk. The weekend of stargazing and discovery runs from Friday 16 March to Sunday 18 March and is ideal for families or groups with an interest in astronomy. Some knowledge will be useful but beginners are more than welcome.

Early preparation is also underway to expand this year’s Exmoor Dark Skies Festival into a two-week period from 20 October to 4 November. Following the success of the inaugural festival last year, organisers Exmoor National Park were delighted with the interest in celebrating and promoting the area’s designation as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.

Katrina Munro, Economy Project Officer at Exmoor National Park, said, “This year there’ll be even more opportunities to learn about and enjoy our dark sky. Events such as the planetarium and space workshops are a great way to introduce children to the wonders of the universe. There will also be stargazing evenings, astronomy talks and dark sky adventures.”  Search #ExmoorDSF for what happened last year and TO keep up to date with 2018’s Festival.

“The festival is a boost for tourism and businesses are invited to hold events or use the festival to offer themed short stay packages,” Katrina continued. “I’d be delighted to hear from businesses and organisations who want to be involved.”

Visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/stargazing for more details, booking for the Family Stargazing Weekend or the Dark Skies Festival or call Katrina Munro on 01398 322236.

PHOTO: by Keith Trueman

NO LIMIT TO EXMOOR’S DARK SKIES

Following a successful inaugural Dark Skies Festival, Exmoor National Park Authority is launching a suite of new initiatives to further celebrate Exmoor’s status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.   

Over 2,000 people enjoyed 35+ events during the first ever Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, sponsored by Airband, held over half term. Despite cloud cover during many events, the festival was a resounding success with the vast majority of events being fully booked in advance and visitors drawn from across the UK and beyond.

Exmoor became the very first International Dark Sky Reserve to be designated in Europe in 2011. The festival sought to celebrate the opportunities this provides as well as to give a boost to tourism outside of the peak season. Highlights included dusk safaris, stargazing adventures, wild glow-stick swimming, an Astro Party and a giant mobile planetarium. Over 200 schoolchildren took part in a night-time adventure at Wimbleball as part of the festival and a new short film was premiered. The film incorporates stunning imagery of Exmoor’s dark skies and introductions to some of the wonders that can be explored. The film will be available in the Lynmouth and Dunster National Park Centres as well as via the Exmoor National Park YouTube channel.

Now the Exmoor National Park Authority is looking to build on this success.

150,000 Euros has been secured from the European Regional Development Fund (via the Interreg Atlantic area programme) to boost Astro Tourism in the area further. The AtlanticNetSky project will see Exmoor working with partners across the Atlantic area in places such as the Canary Islands, Spain, Ireland and Portugal to develop a network of astro-tourism destinations. There will be opportunities to share learning from across Europe and to develop a shared marketing programme. Locally there will be support for Exmoor businesses to develop new astronomy related tourism products, provision of a Dark Sky Discovery hub and  training opportunities.

The National Park Authority is also hosting a family stargazing weekend at their Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning from 16 to 18 March 2018. The weekend, in the heart of the Dark Sky Reserve, will provide families and groups with an interest in astronomy the opportunity to discover together through the expertise of astronomer and author Seb Jay.

“Our status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky reserve is of immense value to Exmoor. It recognises the fact that we have some of the darkest skies in the country and that we’re proactively working to conserve them,” said Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park. “More than that, it provides a great opportunity to encourage more people to visit and stay longer outside of the peak season. We are really pleased with how the festival has gone – not only did we attract new visitors to the area, we also engaged with many local communities and several businesses put on their own events within the festival programme. We are grateful to all those that were involved in supporting the festival from our sponsor, Airband, to those that volunteered to help events run smoothly.

“Looking ahead we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some of Europe’s leading astro-tourism destinations to share learning and experiences and support our businesses to further utilise this unique asset.”

For further details visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/stargazing 

HALF TERM FAMILY ACTIVITIES AS PART OF DARK SKIES FESTIVAL

The Exmoor Dark Skies festival from the 19 – 29 October 2017 has something for all and provides some great half terms activities for families.

Local children and adults can experience the marvels of the stars above during a mobile planetarium session at Lynton (23 October), Dulverton (24 October), or Dunster (28 October) as part of the inaugural festival, whatever the weather. The sessions, lasting from 45 minutes to 1 hour, offer a 360-degree-space learning experience. High-resolution images, movies and sophisticated computer simulations are projected throughout Space Odyssey’s inflatable dome – above, behind and all around the audience – to create a breathtakingly immersive and inspirational experience.

Every fascinating session will be led by Simon Ould, an experienced science teacher and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Simon uses his extensive teaching knowledge to carefully adapt the delivery and content of each presentation for the particular group involved.  Simon said, “Adults and children are often blown-away by an experience in our dome. I’m delighted to be bringing our 6.5 metre Voyager dome to Exmoor as part of the Dark Skies Festival.

“For many children a session in the dome introduces them to the wider world, solar system and the universe for the first time. It really is unforgettable and can impact a child’s understanding for the rest of their life.”

The dome sessions start from just £3 for a child and £5 for an adult and advance booking is highly recommended. Sessions at Dunster also include some solar and stargazing and a workshop with astro-physics students from Exeter University. Visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival for more details, session times and booking. Alternatively call the Lynmouth National Park Centre on 01598 752509 (open 7 days).

There are over 35 events across Exmoor throughout the festival, which is sponsored by Airband. The festival is officially launched on Friday 20 October at Winsford Village Hall with the premier of a new short film on Exmoor’s Dark Skies followed by a presentation on Exmoor’s Dark Skies and opportunities to see the Northern Lights by presenter and astronomer Will Gater. Other events include a guide to Astrophotography with Dr Lillian Hobbs of the Royal Photographic Society on 19 October, special film showings of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Space Odyssey 2001’ and opportunities for a glow stick night swim with Channel Adventure.

Katrina Munro of the Exmoor National Park Authority said, “We’ve had huge interest in the festival with many events already fully booked, but there’s plenty of opportunities to enjoy the planetarium sessions and other events. Exmoor was the very first International Dark Sky Reserve to be designated in all of Europe and we are excited to be able to help people enjoy them during this festival. We’re hoping for clear skies but the vast majority of the events will be running whatever the weather.”

EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL ONLINE BOOKINGS NOW OPEN

The full programme has been produced and event booking has now opened for the first Exmoor Dark Skies Festival from 19 to 29 October celebrating the National Park’s status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. There are more than 25 events to appeal to families and children, as well as those more experienced in watching the stars.

The festival is sponsored by Airband. Managing Director, Redmond Peel, said, “We’re delighted to be sponsoring the very first Dark Skies Festival. Over the last two years Airband have worked closely with Exmoor National Park on the roll out of superfast broadband, so it’s a great opportunity to be involved with the festival focussing on just some of the incredible and unique phenomena Exmoor has to offer.”

At the start of the festival over 500 schoolchildren will be on Exmoor to learn about the night skies before the festival launch event with astronomer, journalist and presenter Will Gater. The launch will include the first public showing of a new film all about Exmoor’s Dark Skies followed by a talk about viewing the stars and Milky Way from Exmoor as well as rarer phenomena such as the Northern Lights which people might not think they could see or photograph from so far south.

Other indoor events include an astro-photography talk, a special film showing of 2001: Space Odyssey and art displays as well as several planetarium sessions all around Exmoor. The planetarium offers inspirational and immersive 360-degree experiences of the solar system. 3D digital projections are created using sophisticated computer simulations, presented by an experienced astronomer to take you deep into the wonders of space.

For families there will be an amazing Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, with fun hands-on sessions and virtual-reality experiences as well as traditional stargazing and a night-time forest walk and campfire. For the more adventurous there is night-time mountain biking, a night swim or an exhilarating night-navigation walk with a National Park Ranger. Other outdoor activities include dusk safaris and a guided night walk up to Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor.

Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is co-ordinating the festival, said, “Interest has already been high including international enquiries and media coverage. The printed Festival Programme can now be collected from National Park Centres and our online booking facility has also opened enabling visitors to plan in advance. This is the first festival of its kind on Exmoor and we’re looking forward to introducing many people to the wonders above!”

Full details of the Dark Skies Festival events and online booking is available from the National Park’s website www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/stargazing/dark-skies-festival  . Advanced booking is highly recommended to guarantee entry to events and a special early bird discount of 10% is available for many events booked before the 15 September.

www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival