Visitors are invited to gaze up to the heavens above Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the Dark Skies Festival 2022.
The Lime Tree Observatory at Lime Tree Farm, a not-for-profit enterprise run by volunteers near Ripon, is offering a series of special events for the festival in February and March.
Astronomers from the observatory will lead tours through the solar system and our Milky Way galaxy. If the weather is clear, telescopes will be available to enjoy the dark nights skies at Lime Tree Farm.
Nidderdale AONB is home to some of the darkest skies in the country, with four official Dark Sky Discovery Sites – Thruscross reservoir, Scar House reservoir, Fewston and Toft Gate – recognised as excellent and accessible places to stargaze.
The team at the AONB works to raise awareness of light pollution and to help protect the dark skies.
Iain Mann, Nidderdale AONB Manager, said: “Our dark skies are part of what makes this landscape so special with the opportunity to see thousands of stars, and even at times, the Northern Lights. But this wondrous sight is under threat with increasing light pollution. It also threatens nocturnal wildlife, wastes energy and can even affect our own wellbeing.”
Light pollution affects circadian rhythms and sleep patterns for humans, and affects wildlife, including bird migration patterns.
Nidderdale AONB recently awarded the Lime Tree Observatory with a Farming in Protected Landscapes grant to purchase digital projection equipment for its new planetarium, which has been three years in the making. Built in a converted old hay barn, the planetarium will be six and a half metres in diameter, and is set to open to the public later this year.
The three-year Defra-funded Farming in Protected Landscapes grant programme offers financial support for one-off projects that either support nature recovery, provide better access or engagement with the land, or increases the business resilience of ‘nature friendly’ farms
Astronomer, filmmaker and volunteer at Lime Tree Observatory, Martin Whipp, said: “When it opens, the new planetarium will have a real wow-factor. You’ll be able to fly through the Orion Nebula, or witness simulations of galaxies colliding in this immersive experience.”
Martin added: “The Observatory aims to truly engage and inspire the public. Here, children can hold a meteorite that’s four billion years old. It can really fire imaginations. Space offers an exciting platform to learn physics, to inspire art, poetry and philosophy.”
He continued: “Sadly, light pollution is getting worse and people living in cities are often limited to just seeing the brightest stars or the Moon. So, we see ourselves as a central hub in the AONB for stargazers.”
The Dark Skies Festival also offers a chance to canoe under the stars at How Stean Gorge in Lofthouse.
For details and to book a ‘Guide to the Heavens’ with Lime Tree Observatory, go to https://nidderdaleaonb.org.uk/events
Tickets are limited and booking essential.