We are delighted to be hosting an evening of stargazing at Sheepdrove on Friday 17th October at 6.30pm. Some of the Sheepdrove team were lucky enough to attend one of the fascinating stargazing evenings with the astronomers at Marlborough College’s Blackett Observatory last winter so when we were approached by Jacky Aklam, project officer at North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with the idea of holding one at Sheepdrove, we were very keen indeed.
Almost 15% of the night sky in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is as dark as anywhere in the UK and here up on the Lambourn Downs we have some of the darkest skies in the region – on a moonless winter’s night you might be able to see as many as 3,000 stars.
Increasing light pollution is drowning out the stars and harming wildlife and ecosystems by disrupting the feeding and breeding cycles of bats, birds, insects and nocturnal animals. Recent research has confirmed that excess artificial light at night can also negatively affect human health, plus it is wasteful, consuming resources unnecessarily and contributing to global heating. Informed lighting design and practice can easily keep our roads and neighbourhoods safe so if you are planning to put in external lighting, please refer to the free external lighting guide available at www.northwessexdowns.org.uk.
If you are coming along to Sheepdrove’s stargazing event, please dress appropriately! The secret is to dress in layers, rather than to try and wear single thick items. Multiple layers of clothing help trap air between them and thus increases the insulation – plus they can be discarded if you find yourself too warm. Don’t forget to wear a hat, especially one that covers your ears. If the sky is too cloudy or it’s pouring with rain, there is the bad weather option of a fascinating talk from astronomers Gavin and Jonathon in The Beech Room at Sheepdrove.
All torches must be red light. The reason for this is that the human eye has evolved so that we can actually see incredibly well in the dark; when our pupil dilates our eyes can gather more light and the chemicals in our eyes change to help us see in low light but this process takes approximately 30 minutes for our eyes to become dark-adapted. White light from torches and car head lamps affects this natural process — if our dark-adapted eyes see any white light they reset and it’s necessary to wait 30 or so minutes again!
And, if you can’t attend, be sure to look out for more stargazing evenings run by North Wessex Downs AONB this winter. Or, why not head up to White Horse Hill or Combe Gibbet to experience the wonders of a starry sky for yourself? Go Stargazing has a useful website that gives more information on how, where, what to see, and equipment when stargazing. It also includes a useful calendar telling you the best nights to go stargazing (www.gostargazing.co.uk)
Please visit www.northwessexdowns.org.uk for tickets which are £5 per adult, with children (aged 8 and upwards please) free of charge.
Many thanks to Blackett Observatory astronomer Gavin James for the starry sky photo.