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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 - we teamed up with our friends at the Yorkshire Dales National Park to host our first joint Dark Skies Festival (15 – 21 February 2016) – stargazing, games and activities, from Hawes to the Moors and shores! It was a great success and we are looking to repeat it in 2017, 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. 2016 Starfest will be the 16th annual event (4 – 7 August 2016) and promises to be a star-studded occasion.
  • In October we team up with experts from York Astronomical Society to hold an annual stargazing event at Sutton Bank National Park Centre while our Halloween fright-free Creatures of the Night event held at The Moors National Park Centre includes bat walks and stargazing.

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.

Northern Lights

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, you can sign up for alerts:

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

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

Meteors

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. 

Meteor Shower Calendar iphone app – find out when the next one is due and whether the moon will spoil the show

The Time and Date website includes information on when and where to view them from

Look out for the annual Perseid meteor shower in August, the Orionids meteor shower peaks in October, and the Gemini meteor showers in December; at their peak you'll be able to see hundreds of meteors an hour.

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.

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.