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National Parks over the moon with bagging 'star' astrophysicist Tim O’Brien for Dark Skies Festival

Dark skies above Dalby Forest Credit Steve BellDark skies above Dalby Forest Credit Steve Bell
13 November 2018

A well-known astrophysicist and popular media commentator on space matters will raise the curtain on next February’s Dark Skies Festival organised by the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities.

Astrophysicist and popular media commentator Tim O'BrienTim O’Brien who is professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester and associate director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics will shed light on some of the greatest cosmic curiosities at the opening event of the fourth annual Dark Skies Festival (15 February – 3 March 2019).

Speaking in the atmospheric stately home surroundings of Castle Howard near Malton, Prof O’Brien who makes regular appearances on BBC Radio Five Live and Breakfast TV, as well as having featured on Stargazing Live and Radio 4’s Life Scientific, will captivate an audience with his ‘Our Place in the Universe’ talk.

The Festival’s packed programme of events will then roll out over the fortnight with more than 100 events across the protected landscapes of both National Parks and the Howardian Hills and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Many of the events will be themed around the moon to celebrate the 50th anniversary year of the first landing on the astronomical body by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and because the first week of the Festival will coincide with a Full Moon phase.

To that end visitors can expect moon gazing sessions using powerful telescopes, nocturnal nature watch evenings together with guided cycling, running and walking events in woodland, across the moors and in coastal villages under moonlit skies as well as family crafting activities such as rocket-making.

Astronomers will take festival-goers on a guided tour of the galaxies, planets and constellations with stargazing sessions and astro parties at many beauty spots and historical sites including Bolton Castle, Malham Cove, Ryedale Folk Museum and Sutton Bank.

Visitors can also enjoy the celestial celebration by learning astro photography skills or hurtling down Go Ape’s night zip wire at Dalby Forest, a new experience introduced for the first time during the 2018 Festival and which has since grown in popularity.

Local restaurants, cafés and food producers are also planning a stellar line-up of themed menus and specials, everything from a new gin through to a dark skies ice cream.  

Prof O’Brien comments: “For thousands of years humans have looked up to the stars and wondered about our place in the universe. It is crucial that we protect our shared heritage of the night sky and so I am very much looking forward to supporting the Dark Skies Festival.”

Mike Hawtin, outdoor activity tourism officer for the North York Moors National Park adds: “We’re over the moon to have Professor O’Brien as our guest. His unbridled enthusiasm for all-things-space is infectious and his talk will set the tone for the rest of the Festival in helping visitors discover the wonders of the universe and value just how precious the night skies are above our protected landscapes.”

Helen Dalton, destination co-ordinator for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority comments: “The milestone anniversary of Apollo 11’s remarkable mission makes the 2019 Dark Skies Festival even more relevant in highlighting the discoveries made and how much is still unknown about space.

“It captures people’s imaginations which is why the Festival will showcase the myriad ways that people can venture out after-dark and appreciate the natural spectacle above their heads.”

Each National Park has three Dark Sky Discovery locations where skies are sufficiently dark to potentially view the Milky Way with the naked eye. The North York Moors sites are at The Moors National Park Centre at Danby, Sutton Bank and Dalby Forest.

The Yorkshire Dales Dark Sky Discovery locations are at Hawes, Malham and Buckden.

Further programme information and booking details will be available over the coming months on A number of events will be free while others will have a small charge attached.


Notes to editors:

The Dark Skies Festival is part of Destination Partnerships Moors and Dales, a partnership project running until 31 August 2019 to boost rural tourism across the four protected landscapes within North Yorkshire.

EU LogoThis project is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

The four protected partnerships are the North York Moors National Park. Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

North York Moors National Park

The National Park is a beautiful landscape of stunning moorland, spectacular coast, ancient woodland, dark skies and historic sites. It was created on 28 November 1952 and became Britain’s sixth national park. The North York Moors National Park Authority works with a wide variety of people to care for this beautiful corner of Yorkshire. Nearly 14% of its staff are apprentices from local families. For more information go to

Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and a rich heritage. As well as being ideal for those who want to enjoy the outdoors, the National Park offers a wealth of attractions for visitors – from great food and places to eat, castles, abbeys and quirky museums, and opportunities to learn new skills. It is one of 15 National Parks in the UK and is administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Nidderdale AONB

Nidderdale AONB covers 603 sq km (233 sq miles) from Great Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales through to the edge of the Vale of York in the East. The fascinating geology of the area which has created a gorge and eye-catching rock formations, together with the tranquil expanses of water, open heather moorland, rolling pastures and scenic villages are among the special qualities of the AONB.

Howardian Hills AONB

Howardian Hills AONB covers 204 sq km (79 sq miles) of North Yorkshire countryside, nestled between the North York Moors National Park, the Yorkshire Wolds and the Vale of York. It is a captivating landscape with its well-wooded rolling countryside, patchwork of arable and pasture fields, tranquil villages and historic country houses with classic parkland landscapes.

For further information and images please contact Amanda Brown at A2BPR on:
T: 01423 740048
M: 07876 452580

Or Nina Beadle, Communications Officer, North York Moors National Park Authority:
T: 01439 772700

Or Andrew Fagg, Media Officer, at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
T: 01969 652374