Go stargazing at Dark Sky Discovery sites

William Wordsworth was famously inspired by the natural world, and greatly admired the starry sky at night. His famous poem I wandered lonely as a cloud compares the daffodils to “the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way”.

1st December 2016

The great poet would know, because his former home, the National Trust’s Allan Bank at Ambleside in the Lake District, is an ideal place in which to enjoy a bit of stargazing. Because of its remote location, the night sky there is entirely free of light pollution and really is dark.

Wordsworth would have had a wonderful view of the Milky Way with the naked eye. Allan Bank is one of several places throughout the UK that has been recommended by Dark Sky Discovery, the organisation that is building up a map of the best spots in a number of rural and urban areas to see the night sky in the UK.

Light pollution is a growing problem for amateur astronomers. If you live in a city centre, at night you can see about 100 stars with the naked eye. But under a truly dark sky, in a less populated area, more than 1,000 stars become visible. That’s not to mention planets, meteors and galaxies. Light pollution, the orange glow generated by towns and roads, doesn’t just blot out the starry sky; it also presents a hazard to wildlife. It can impact on behaviour governing sleeping, eating, mating and migration. Bats, birds and insects are just some of those affected.

If you fancy a spot of stargazing, you need to find a dark sky – the darker the better. Take a look at Dark Sky Discovery’s online map. It shows places throughout the UK that offer a great view of the night sky, away from the worst of any local light pollution with good sightlines of the sky and with public access.

The website also has star charts, advice on astronomy and links to other resources online.

For stargazing, you simply need to choose your spot and look up. You’ll need warm clothes and a thermos flask, but you don’t necessarily need a telescope; even a pair of good 10 x 50 binoculars will let you see the moons of Jupiter and the Andromeda Galaxy.

If you’d like to go on an organised star watch, use a community telescope or fancy seeing the night sky with expert astronomers at an observatory, check out projects linked to the BBC's Stargazing Live. The website lists hundreds of Stargazing Live related events and activities across the UK for the months ahead.

For more information, see our five great Dark Sky Discovery sites

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