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Register now to venture into space or discover nocturnal wildlife wonders

Orion over the North York Moors coast by Tony MarshOrion over the North York Moors coast by Tony Marsh

Virtual Dark Skies Festival (12-28 February)

22 January 2021

Whether it’s discovering how bats use echoes to find their prey; posing questions to an astronomer while watching live pictures of the moon; or being amazed at an astronaut’s life during a space mission, this year’s Virtual Dark Skies Festival promises a bumper programme of discovery and entertainment for people of all ages.

The Festival, which has gone online this year in the light of current travel restrictions, takes place from 12-28 February with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, together with Go Stargazing, lining-up a host of experts to help bring the event into people’s homes.

Each evening viewers can watch as astronomers, professors, researchers and astro photographers share their passion for the dark side.

This year’s Festival is themed around Nature at Night to highlight why darkness is so important to the nation’s wildlife. Families can listen to mind-boggling facts as Dean Waters of the University of York shares the ingenious ways that animals have adapted to the darkness whether it’s bats making echolocation calls or the crazy asymmetric ears of owls.

Similarly Dr Callum MacGregor of the University of Hull will shed light on the important contribution moths make to the ecosystem by nocturnally pollinating plants, or viewers can tune into wildlife artist Robert Fuller’s live webcam footage of owls and stoats.

Budding astronauts and those eager to discover more about space and the cosmos will be able to tune into sessions such as Professor Carole Haswell, Head of Astronomy at the Open University talking about ‘Planet Discoveries inspired by Star Trek’. Suitable for anybody aged 10 and over, the talk will delve into the work being done to discover distant exoplanets and the likelihood of finding life on them.

Orla the Alien, who landed in the North York Moors last summer, has now been joined by a number of extra-terrestrial friends that families can adopt if they contact the National Park before 5 February and then let the kids help complete the aliens’ mission to find out about life on Earth.

Children are also likely to be captivated by the Space Detectives as they take them on a tour of the night sky. Alternatively Colin Stuart, astronomy presenter and children’s author will whisk viewers away on a mission to discover the red planet known as Mars so they can learn more about life as an astronaut during a seven-month voyage.

A few days later, on 18 February, Go Stargazing will also focus on Mars with a presentation explaining what will be happening with NASA’s landing of Perseverance Rover, a minivan-sized robot, on the planet and depending on the timing, a livestream of the historic moment as it unfolds.

Weather permitting, a team of astronomers across Britain are being put on standby with their telescopes from 18 February to relay live pictures of the moon via the Go Stargazing Facebook page, as more of the lunar landscape becomes visible each night as it moves towards its full phase.

Meanwhile those interested in night photography can join Paul Clark’s Swaledale Starscapes session where he shares the beautiful images he’s captured over the years, or get to grips with the techniques of astro and nightscape image-taking by picking up tips from specialists Pete Collins or Gary Lintern.

Events are free or have a small charge attached and many need to be pre-booked by registering a place on the Go Stargazing website.

See the Festival website for full details of the Virtual Dark Skies Festival programme.

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant for the North York Moors National Park says: “We’ve designed the virtual programme to reflect the broad range of interests and age groups of visitors that would ordinarily come along to the actual Dark Skies Festival in our National Parks.

“Each speaker is passionate about their subject and so it could be an ideal opportunity for families to use some of the sessions as part of the home schooling activity.

“Alternatively, switch off the TV and be prepared to be mesmerised by the fascinating details about darkness and space that our experts share before stepping outside and looking up at the dark sky with a sense of new-found awe.”


Notes to editors: 

The Dark Skies Festival runs across four protected landscapes - the North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the 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.

Go Stargazing
Go Stargazing encourages public interest in astronomy by helping people find stargazing events and destinations across the UK, this via the website and social media channels.

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