Stargazing sites in Great Britain are on the increase, and so is the general interest in admiring the night sky. Let’s take a look at some of the most amazing locations to stargaze in the UK, together with tips on how to make the most of your sky at night experience.
Stargazing has been something of a challenge in recent years across the UK. Light pollution has made it tricky to enjoy a clear view of the sky. But there’s good news on the horizon. Thanks to collective efforts by enthusiasts, volunteers, the National Trust, National Parks and International Dark Skies Association (IDA), stargazing has once again become a possibility in a number of UK locations.
Dark Sky Parks and Discovery Sites
The IDA has designated a number of locations as adequately low in light pollution, allowing people to see particular starry skies. These locations are known as Dark Sky Parks and there are three across the British Isles:
Many have visitor centres and welcoming facilities for the night sky enthusiast.
In addition, the Dark Sky Discovery website provides a map showing you where the Orion constellation can be spotted, as well as places you can see the Milky Way.
And there’s more. The UK also has 17 Dark Sky Discovery Sites, including a number of national parks such as the Yorkshire Dales, the Brecon Beacons, Northumberland, the North York Moors, Pembrokeshire, the Peak District and Snowdonia to name a few. Many of these locations are expansive and remote with minimal light pollution for the very best night sky views.
Some of these sites feature observatories with powerful telescopes and the opportunity to meet knowledgeable astronomers.
How to get into stargazing?
When you experience clear, dark skies for the first time, guaranteed you will never forget it. Without the light pollution, the Milky Way governs the sky with authority, and you get to witness all the familiar constellations.
Many astronomical societies run public star gazing events. Kielder Forest Star Camp for example is a huge camping party where astronomers convene to observe the sky. Autumn and winter are prime times to visit.
Some stargazing sites run special events and festivals, many combined with wildlife and ghost walks, starlight runs and other activities.
When is the best time to go stargazing?
The best time to head off for a stargazing stint is either side of the new moon. Autumn, winter and spring tend to be the most popular seasons.
During the summer there is a much reduced window in which to see anything due to the shorter nights, although it’s a good time to view the Milky Way and the Perseid meteor shower. If you’re setting your sights outside of the local vicinity though, spring and autumn are your best bets for the likes of Andromeda and other galaxies. The Orionids meteor shower happens in October.
How to stargaze
Firstly, check your dark sky destination’s website for local info. Many have downloadable guides.
Always bear in mind that the night sky changes with the season, and particular destinations will offer their own highlights at different times of the year. Do check the moon phase too.
There are some great stargazing apps to download as well such as Star Walk (iPhone) or Google Sky (Android). These help you spot stars and constellations a whole lot quicker. Top tip though: don’t stare at your phone too much otherwise your night vision will be affected.
Also give the Stellarium desktop app a go. It’s great for planning ahead for your stargazing escapade.
What equipment do you need for stargazing?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need a telescope for stargazing. A pair of good 10 x 50 binoculars are good enough to get you a view of the moons of Jupiter and the Andromeda galaxy.
Take some shelter with you, especially important for the cooler months. A torch is useful, but put a red light filter on it or use a rear bike light. The reason? Red light doesn’t put a drain on your night vision like bright white light does.
A compass will help you orientate yourself when viewing the stars. Your phone probably has a compass app, but again be mindful of how a phone screen can affect your night vision.
Once you’re all set up and ready to stargaze, switch off all your lights and give your eyes a good 20 minutes to ready themselves for what you’re about to experience. A great time to get out that hot flask!
Inspired to go stargazing? Before you go, check out this dark sky calendar to identify the prime dates for your trip. Enjoy the night sky!