September 20, 2017
Did you know that Northumberland is home to the third largest area of protected dark skies in the world? A dark sky area is somewhere that is far from the light pollution caused by street lighting etc. The further away you come from light polluted areas the clearer the vision of the sky at night. In a dark sky area it is possible to see a much clearer vision of our own galaxy, the Milky Way and many thousands of stars. This is why it's important to preserve dark sky areas.
Within the Northumberland International Sky Park lies the Kielder Observatory. This was created to make the most of the area by utilizing its isolated location, to provide a viewing station for the public to contemplate the miracle of the universe. This is officially the best place in England to view the heavens. The location is close to the Scottish border set high on Black Fell which overlooks the Kielder Water – the largest man made reservoir in Europe.
The Observatory itself was designed specifically to fit in with the forest that surrounds it using natural environmentally friendly wood and powered by wind and solar power. By contrast the equipment used to star gaze is highly technical. The telescopes range from 3” aperture up to 20” behemoths. There are no windows in the building meaning that the only way to see out is through one of these magnificent telescopes.
The Milky Way can’t be seen at all in built up areas. Indeed we are limited to see only a few stars through the orange haze of light pollution. There are reports of people being brought to tears by the sheer breathtaking wonder of the universe at Kielder. On a clear night it is even possible to see the rings of Saturn and the Andromeda Galaxy – our spiral Galaxy neighbour which is similar to the Milky Way.
When organising your star gazing trip, it’s useful to consider what cycle the moon is at. The brightness of a full moon can negatively impact the view that you get of galaxies and star clusters. A moon free night will give you the best views. The darker the conditions are the better for taking in constellations (an easily recognisable group of stars such as the big dipper) and meteor showers.
The Observatory hold frequent events that can be booked in advance. Events such as the Aurora Night will give you information about the science behind the Northern Lights. Or why not take the kids along to the Family Astronomy evening to learn more about the universe and how the Observatory works. Be sure to book in early as these events are popular and frequently sell out quickly. The only downside is the element of chance due to weather conditions. It’s obviously impossible to predict weather in advance and rain clouds will hamper your vision and impact the overall experience. However, the staff are well versed and qualified to keep you entertained and educated regardless of the conditions.