The dark sky’s the limit as South Downs National Park invites all to learn about the Milky Way

VISITORS have the opportunity to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’ as part of a lunar themed festival about astronomy and outer space.

By Neil Fatkin
Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 2:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:38 pm
A photograph from last year's Dark Skies Festival, taken near AIdsworth.
A photograph from last year's Dark Skies Festival, taken near AIdsworth.

The South Downs Dark Skies Festival is the chance to take part in star and moon gazing sessions and to learn about the different space constellations from an indoor planetarium display.

There is also the opportunity to journey through the the Milky Way with the festival’s virtual reality experience.

Dan Oakley, Dark Skies lead ranger at the national park, said: ‘The star-studded skies above our heads are as valuable as our beautiful rolling landscapes and we can’t wait to share them with even more people. The immense view of the starry sky over the national park really is a spectacular sight and it’s amazing when people see it in all its glory for the first time. We’re hoping to capture some awe-inspiring views of the moon and its cratered surface.’

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Children have the opportunity to dress up as an astronauts as part of the Dark Skies Festival.

The South Downs National Park stretches from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne, in this area skirting Bishop’s Waltham, Swanmore, Wickham, Denmead and Clandield and including Hambledon. 

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo 11 moon landing, visitors can also partake in activities including a giant dark night skies colouring wall, dressing up as an astronaut, learn about nocturnal wildlife and participate in interactive science demonstrations.

Laura Warren, events and engagement officer, added: ‘There is something for everyone at this year’s festival, whether you’re new to stargazing or a seasoned professional. No matter what the weather is outside, you can still come and learn about the amazing dark skies in our National Park. The festival is our chance to show-off our night skies, share tips on how to enjoy them and explain why they are worth protecting.’

The two week cosmic extravaganza is due to to take place from Friday February 15 to Sunday March 3.

‘The festival ties in nicely with the half-term holidays so it’s a great opportunity for young people to learn more about astronomy,’ added Laura.

The festival, now in its third year, showcases the National Park’s International Dark Sky Reserve status. Awarded in 2016, the accolade recognises the location’s status as one of the best places in the world to view planets and stars.

The events will be spread across the National Park. The free flagship event, Stargazing South Downs, will return to Midhurst on February 16 and, for first time also come to Petersfield on February 18 and Lewes on February 20.

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