Four new Dark Sky Discovery Sites have officially been declared in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Dark Sky Discovery Sites are chosen for their accessibility and recognition as excellent places to stargaze. The four official spots for star seekers are Thruscross reservoir, Scar House Reservoir, Fewston Reservoir and Toft Gate.
Celebrating its status as home to some of the darkest skies in the country, Nidderdale AONB has partnered with Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks to host the fourth annual Dark Skies Festival this February 15 to March 3.
Sarah Kettlewell, Manager at Nidderdale AONB, said: “2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, so it’s a thrilling year to announce our new Dark Skies status. As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a landscape so special it is protected for the nation, Nidderdale has a truly unique astrotourism offer.”
Dark Sky Discovery Sites are in part chosen for their accessibility. Locations often have free overnight car parking, some with toilet facilities.
Amateur astronomer, Richard Darn, said: “This is fabulous news. Light pollution has robbed most people of their view of the heavens, but these newly designated sites offer a grandstand view of the starry sky in all its glory. It’s so good to see the night sky being finally recognised as a valuable resource that is worth promoting and protecting.”
Sarah added: “You don’t need fancy equipment, just a pair of binoculars, warm clothing and an open mind. On any clear night it’s possible to see as many as 2,000 stars and the finer details of our constellations.”
Activities in the AONB for the Dark Skies Festival include star gazing by canoe with How Stean Gorge adventures at Scar House Reservoir, offering a unique way to experience one of the official Dark Sky Discovery Sites.
Other events for adults and children include night photography workshops to capture star-filled skies, a Super Moon and Stars party with astronomer Richard Darn, a Dark Skies Planetarium at Ripon Cathedral offering a 360 degrees immersive cinematic experience featuring a Tim Peake Space Station Tour.
A Dark Skies Forest School by Moonlight invites you to toast marshmallows on top of the world at Toft Gate Lime Kiln. There’ll also be Children’s Night Time Cycle Rides around Scar House Reservoir, and an off road cycling night for experienced cyclists.
Brymor Ice Cream is even producing a special Dark Skies ice-cream, Dark Skies Galaxy Delight.
Richard Spencer, CEO of Visit Harrogate, said: “The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty makes up around half of the Harrogate District and is a remarkable tourism asset. Astrotourism is a growing trend. You don’t have to travel to Iceland to experience the Northern Lights, there are certain times of the year you’ll see this stunning display in our own skies here in Nidderdale.”
Nidderdale AONB is also home to the Lime Tree Observatory, just north of Ripon, which features one of the largest public telescopes, offering monthly stargazing events between autumn and spring.
Watching the calendar is essential to knowing when the best times are to go stargazing, with the lunar cycle and the weather being key factors. In the northern hemisphere, best times are when the nights are longer during the autumn, winter and spring months, the very darkest skies occurring around the time of the new moon.
For more info on the Dark Skies Festival and to book your spot, visit https://nidderdaleaonb.org.uk/events/
Key Astronomical Events in 2019
Total Lunar Eclipse, 21 January
The earth’s shadow will completely cover the moon for an hour and two minutes, visible from western parts of Europe. The eclipse coincides with a supermoon, of which there are three in 2019. The supermoon on this day will be a blood moon, because of the reddish hue it takes during the eclipse.
Supermoons, 21 January, 19 February, 21 March
These full new moons coincide with the closest distance the moon comes to the Earth in its orbit, resulting in an enlarged appearance. The moon can look 15-30% brighter.
Conjunctions of Mars and Uranus, 13 February
Mars and Uranus will appear close in the night sky (known as an appulse).
Mercury transits the sun, 11 November
For five hours and 29 minutes Mercury will be visible crossing the sun – one of 14 such transits in the 21st century.
Geminid meteor shower, 12-16 December
A spectacular meteor shower, producing around 100 meteors per hour, best observed before dawn.
Photo Credits: Martin Whipp FRAS, Lime Tree Observatory