Category Archives: dark skies

FIRST EVER EXMOOR DARK SKIES ‘BIG ADVENTURE’ THIS SATURDAY (19 OCTOBER 2019)

Families are being invited to spend an evening under the stars as Exmoor National Park gets ready for its first ever Dark Skies Big Adventure this Saturday (19 October, 2-8pm) at the National Trust’s Webbers Post. There is no need to book; just turn up!

The National Park are also teaming up with Plastic Free North Devon in an effort to make it a plastic-free Big Adventure by cutting out all single-use plastic. People are being encouraged to bring their own mugs and plates for hot drinks and baked potatoes, which will be available to purchase on the night.

The free event will see activities running throughout the afternoon and into the evening geared at helping families experience the magic of Exmoor’s night skies – some of the darkest in the country thanks to its status as an International Dark Sky Reserve. It forms part of the third Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, which continues until 3 November and is sponsored by rural broadband provider Airband.

Exmoor National Park Education Officer Patrick Watts-Mabbott, who will be leading the event, said: “The song ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is likely to bring back fond memories of childhood, but how many of us have seen the milky way, constellations and shooting stars against the backdrop of a truly dark sky? It’s a magical experience and we look forward to welcoming everyone to Webbers Post for a Dark Skies Big Adventure this Saturday.”

Activities include a fun afternoon of den-building and wildlife spotting with help from National Park staff and the Exmoor Natural History Society. Then gather around the campfire as the sun goes down for storytelling and to cook a snack, or enjoy food brought from home. As dark sets in, National Park staff will be leading a guided walk to search for glowing fungi in the woods and listen out for stags roaring. Afterwards there’ll be just time to get help spotting sights in the night sky before its time to head home.

Other family-focused events during the Festival include a roving planetarium, space-themed craft and poetry sessions with author Peta Rainsford, nocturnal wildlife at the Exmoor Pony Centre and an Astroparty at Wimbleball Lake. For details see www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival, pick up a programme from National Park Centres in Dulverton, Dunster or Lynmouth or call 01598 752509, open 7 days a week.

PHOTO: @jimjohnstonphoto

EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL PROGRAMME

Over 50 events in celebration of Exmoor’s spectacular starry skies are set to take place across the National Park this autumn, as bookings open for the region’s third annual Dark Skies Festival.

From 14 October to 3 November, venues across the National Park will take advantage of its status as one of three designated International Dark Skies Reserves in the country, to host a range of experiences inspired by the wonders of the night sky.

Following many sell-out events during the first two years, the Festival will this year span three weeks, covering the half term breaks for both Devon and Somerset as well as some quieter spells when the children are back to school.

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The tranquillity and stunning landscapes of Exmoor make it the perfect place to walk, stargaze and take a break from the bustle of busy modern lives and we hope that through the Festival many more people will discover the magic of its night skies.”

The Festival caters for a wide range of ages and interests, with highlights for families including this year’s Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, a 360-degree planetarium experience in Dunster, Bampton or Barnstaple, or the National Park’s first ever Dark Skies Big Adventure with the National Trust.

Wildlife lovers may wish to partake in a guided starlit walk or dusk safari, ending with warming local produce supper or hot chocolate and marshmallows. Meanwhile, the more adventurous might enjoy night mountain biking or a guided walk with an Exmoor National Park Ranger to see the Orionids meteor shower in peak flow.

Foodies will find countless opportunities to indulge in delicious astronomy-inspired suppers married with expert talks and stargazing.

And not forgetting astronomy enthusiasts, who will be spoilt for choice with guided stargazing opportunities, talks on choosing the right telescope or the latest astronomy apps, plus the chance to hone astrophotography skills.

This year children up to 16 years can also enter an Exmoor dark skies-inspired story writing competition, with the winner getting a free astronomy and space workshop for their school, hosted by Jo Richardson of Somerset-based company ‘Space Detectives’.

Katrina Munro of Exmoor National Park Authority coordinates the festival, which is sponsored by rural broadband providers Airband UK. She said: “Many people have never experienced what it’s like to look up into a truly dark sky, see the thousands of stars and feel that inevitable sense of wonder. Exmoor tourism businesses, farms and organisations including the National Trust, Forestry England, South West Lakes Trust and Exmoor Pony Centre have all teamed up with the National Park to ensure there’s something for everyone throughout the three-week festival period.

“We have such a variety of great places to stay, many within the darkest areas of the National Park, but all within easy access of the various events. Events can all be booked separately, allowing people to pick and choose those that interest them most.”

The full programme of events is available at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival or from National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster or Lynmouth. Details of places to stay are included and further accommodation can be found at www.visit-exmoor.co.uk . For more information phone the Lynmouth National Park Centre on 01598 752509, open 7 days a week.

PHOTO: Dark Skies over Exmoor by Peter Hendrie.

EYES TO THE SKIES IN DEVON!

Pupils from Bampton School will take one giant leap in their understanding of space this October when they will be asking questions to an astronaut live on board the International Space Station! Over the summer holidays are researching great things to ask and around 15 of the best will be selected.

The children will have about ten minutes to ask their questions as the ISS zooms overhead at five miles per second! They will use special amateur radio equipment provided by ARISS UK, a team of volunteers that establish the contact.

Bampton School is the only state school in the country to have been awarded the opportunity this year, following a rigorous selection process.

Head Teacher Gary Bladon says, “I am thrilled that we have been able to secure such a unique experience for the children of Bampton School. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the school and the wider community in Bampton. We have changed next term’s topic to look at the subject of communication with all sorts of activities planned in and out of school time to create a real impact and a lasting legacy.”

The contact is currently scheduled for the week commencing Monday 7 October. There will be a screening of the event at the Riverside Hall in Bampton for parents and residents who wish to see it. It’s likely that schools across the county will be watching too. Anybody interested can watch the contact as it will be streamed on this link live.ariss.org Amateur radio enthusiasts all across Northern Europe will also be tuning in to the downlink radio frequency from the ISS.

Nick Bull has three children currently attending the school and is coordinating the contact as a result of his interest in amateur radio. Nick says, “This has brought three things together that are all close to my heart – my children, radio and space! I can’t wait to see the look on the children’s faces when the astronaut’s voice begins to crackle through the static. I have been to a previous event to help set this up and I can tell you it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The drama and tension is something I’ll never forget. It will be no different in Bampton!”

EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL – BIGGER AND BETTER

A family astro-party, night mountain-biking, nocturnal wildlife walks and stargazing with delicious food are all on the agenda for Exmoor National Park’s annual Dark Skies Festival. Now in its third year, the Festival is going from strength to strength, with this year’s programme extended over three weeks instead of two.

From 14 October to 3 November, Exmoor National Park Authority will be teaming up with local businesses and groups to put on an array of events in celebration of the region’s spectacular dark skies, now one of 13 International Dark Sky Reserves.

Katrina Munro from Exmoor National Park Authority said: “We’re delighted to have extended the festival to three weeks to ensure there are plenty of activities for all and that the half-term break is covered for both Devon and Somerset schools.

“We aim to introduce people near and far to Exmoor’s incredible starry skies and are very grateful for the support once again of our festival sponsors, rural broadband providers Airband UK. With the return of old favourites like our mobile planetarium and guided Orionid meteor walks, plus the introduction of our very first Dark Skies Big Adventure with the National Trust, there’ll be plenty to delight space enthusiasts of all ages.”

Exmoor National Park was designated as Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark Sky Association in 2011. The National Park Authority continues to work with developers to help limit light pollution, providing unrivalled views of the celestial landscape while also preserving it for nocturnal wildlife.

Astronomer David Pearson, who volunteers for the National Park Authority as a Dark Skies Ambassador, said: “Even with the naked eye there’s so much people can see and all the family can enjoy spotting constellations and shooting stars. Through our research over the last few months, we have found some great secluded stargazing spots for keen astronomers, which are away from the glare of artificial lighting. In the darkest skies directly overhead we can see hundreds of objects, including the star clouds of our Milky Way, glowing clouds of dust and gas, satellites and spacecraft.”

Details of all the festival events can be found at exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival and a full printed programme will be available from National Park Centres in Lynmouth, Dunster and Dulverton from August.

Photo: Keith Trueman ©, Burrow Farm Engine House in Exmoor National Park. Built in 1860 to help mine the Brendon Hills iron field, it is the last remaining example of a ‘Cornish’ type engine house in Somerset. More info: www.exmoorher.co.uk/Monument/MSO8859

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.