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Dark skies

Russ Norman Photography www.russellnorman.co.ukRuss Norman Photography www.russellnorman.co.uk

The big open skies of the North York Moors are breathtaking by day and also by night when the dark sky panorama is revealed.  

This is one of the best places in the country to see stars, because of the low light pollution levels and clear horizons. The further away you get from street lights, the better the view – and under a really dark sky it’s possible to see up to ten times as many stars as in a city. 

Three places in particular are recognised as special sites in the National Park. Our two National Park Centres at Sutton Bank and Danby, plus Dalby Observatories in Dalby Forest have been named as Dark Sky Discovery Sites (Milky Way class) – so named because the galaxy is often visible to the naked eye from the sites. 

Other places in the National Park are also recognised as great places for stargazing, including Rievaulx Terrace where the National Trust sometimes hosts night walks and stargazing events.

Dark Sky Discovery is an innovative network of national and local astronomy and open space organisations that helps people to enjoy the night sky. 

Festivals, events and activities 

  • Dark Skies Festival - teaming up with our friends at the Yorkshire Dales National Park, join our second Dark Skies Festival (18 – 26 February 2017) – stargazing, games and activities, from Hawes to the Moors and shores! Watch out for further details later in the year.
  • Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society (SARAS) holds stargazing events in Dalby Forest on the first Friday of most months between October and March each year between 8pm and 10pm. Check their website for the latest dates.
  • Starfest is an annual 3-night star camp run by SARAS at Dalby Forest (every August), which attracts amateur astronomers from around the UK. There's camping, talks and events, and even a rocket-building competition. 2017 Starfest will be the 17th annual event and promises to be a star-studded occasion.
  • Join Hidden Horizons for one of their Celestial Exploring stargazing events along the coast which start at the end of September and run all winter. With access to their large telescope, enjoy a three-hour guided tour of our night sky with expert Andy Exton. From nebulae and star clusters to planets and constellations, including Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull, the secrets of our skies will be revealed. Booking is essential (Adults: £10; Under 16s: £7 inc. hot chocolate/snacks and an astronomy resource pack to take away); All under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.
  • In October we team up with experts from York Astronomical Society to hold an annual stargazing event at Sutton Bank National Park Centre.

What can you see

There are a number of astro websites and apps for smart phones and tablets which are well worth looking at, helping you to understand the night sky and providing alerts on the latest astronomical happenings.

Milky Way

Look directly overhead during autumn and early winter evenings and you'll see this shimmering river of light streaming through the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cygnus. The darker the skies, the more prominent it is to the naked eye. The soft glow is actually caused by the light of millions of dim stars (visible in binoculars) and it's one of the spiral arms of our own galaxy, which we also call the Milky Way.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

The further north you are and the darker your sky, the more chance you have of seeing the magic of Aurora. The northern lights are certainly visible from the North York Moors, with some good displays seen recently on the coast. As it is difficult to predict when they'll occur, sign up for alerts, which will give you a few hour's notice:

  • AuroraWatchUK – follow them on twitter or download an app for various smartphones
  • Aurora Alert – this app predicts possible displays of the Northern Lights in your area

The  displays are caused by energetic particles from the sun interacting with the earth's magnetic field. During intense storms you'll see pillars of light soaring overhead and the sky tinted red and green above the northern horizon.

Stars and planets
  • Updated every Friday, the Sky Week website provides a digest of what you can see in the sky this week. 
  • The Pocket Universe app for iphones and ipads has plenty of features and star maps (free lite version available too).
  • Google Skymap – hold up your smartphone to the sky and this app identifies the stars using GPS
Meteor showers

Meteor showers happen at predictable times throughout the year and are best seen when the moon is absent, which will change from year to year. 

Look out for the annual Perseids (August), Orionids (peaks in October), Leonids (November) and Geminids (December). Look for 'shooting stars' which move rapidly across the sky before burning up like a firework. Each is caused by a tiny bit of debris left behind by comets and asteroids, which hit the earth's atmosphere at terrific speeds (25,000 to 165,000mph) causing them to vaporise. At their peak you'll be able to see hundreds of meteors an hour. The darker your location, the more meteors you will see - expect to spot up to two per minute during a storm.

Moon

You'll see the darkest skies when the moon is out of the way - the new moon period - two weeks after full moon, but don't forget how great the moon is in itself, especially full moons and supermoons. The Time and Date website has details of the moon phases.

Andromeda Galaxy

This is the furthest object you can see with your naked eye from the North York Moors - an incredible 2.5 million light years away. To the naked eye it looks like a small faint streak of light below the zigzag shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. Use binoculars and you'll see it's shaped like a rugby ball and fills the field of view. This is another spiral galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way, comprising 300 billion suns and countless planets.

International Space Station

The ISS passes overhead throughout the year. Find out when by going to the Nasa website.

  • The ISS Detector and ISS Spotter apps provides direct alerts letting you know when the ISS is due to pass overhead.