Make The Most Of The Dark Nights

Photos courtesy of Ben Bush Dark Skies Special

Our ancestors had a close affinity to the night skies which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that they lived under dark skies brimming with stars, galaxies and planets that stretched away to the horizons. 

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The night sky united people and civilisations across the globe but our ancient connection is disappearing with the increase of light pollution and it’s estimated that 85% of the population has never seen the Milky Way.

Science, religion and philosophy have all been guided by the stars while the heavenly bodies have inspired some of the finest art and literature humankind has created. The stars have ushered humans across the globe and propelled us into the furthest reaches of space.

Without them, we would never have navigated the globe, learnt of the expanding universe or discovered that we (and everything else) are made of stardust.

Van Gogh painted his famous ‘Starry Night’ in Saint Rémy, France, in 1889 but the Milky Way can no longer be seen there and if the trend continues we can only wonder how many great works will never come to be.

Thankfully, Cumbria has vast open spaces with little to no light pollution, it’s led to Friends of the Lake District seeking a ‘Dark Skies Reserve’ status in the area.  This year they are hosting their first-ever Cumbria Dark Skies Festival on the 21 – 23 of February and have an exciting array of events over the three-days.

On the 22nd the Cockermouth Astronomy Society will settle by the banks of the Derwent at Crow Park with their telescopes on hand to guide people around the night sky.  Demonstrators will teach budding photographers how to take pictures using your own equipment, so bring your camera.  Specialist equipment will facilitate group observation of faint objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.

Jo Gruchy will lead the Whinlatter Dark Skies walk on the 21st.  Jo is an experienced Mountain Leader and he’ll help you experience the forest like never before.  There will be opportunities to turn off the torches and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.

Local photographer Ben Bush won the prestigious Astro Photographer of the Year 2019 in the People & Space category and he’s spent countless hours scouting for perfect locations. There’s not much Ben doesn’t know about stargazing and he said West Cumbria is a great place if you’re planning your own nocturnal adventure.

“You are spoilt for choice,” said Ben. “It’s an undiscovered part of Cumbria. You have wild Ennerdale which has the minimum of light pollution but there’s also Wasdale and Eskdale, which are stunning. Buttermere, Loweswater and even St Bees are great locations too.

Light pollution is a problem but the major factor when it comes to stargazing is the weather conditions. If it’s a cold, dry night the skies are clearer because there isn’t the moisture in the air.”

There is a range of apps beginners can download that helps identify stars, planets and constellations like PhotoPills and Stellarium. Knowing where to start is difficult but Ben’s advice is simple:

“Have a nice dinner, make sure you wrap up warm and explore. You don’t have to drag yourself out of bed in the middle of the night because different stars and constellations are visible at different times. At this time of year, you have Orion rising but it’s quite low and there’s a low ark before setting.

The most important factor is the stage of the moon. Is it waxing or waning? Is it a new or full moon? What time is it rising? The moon might not appear until late in the night which creates an early window to discover darker skies.”

What are you waiting for? Grab the family, head outdoors and make the most of our wonderful dark skies.

Photographers looking to develop their skills may be interested in a one to one tuition with Ben, visit www.benbush.photos for details.  Event listings for the Dark Skies Festival are found at www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/news/cumbria-dark-skies-festival 

 

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