Time to get moonstruck at the South Downs’ Dark Skies festival

Dark Skies Dan
Dark Skies Dan

An annual stargazing and lunar extravaganza is returning to the Downs.

The South Downs Dark Skies Festival was established in 2016 and runs this year from February 15 to March 3 in venues across West Sussex, East Sussex and Hampshire.

The festival celebrates the National Park’s International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) status, which was awarded three years ago and recognises it as one of the best places in the world to view the moon and stars.

This year’s events have a lunar theme, to mark half a century since the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

Events range from moongazing sessions to indoor planetarium shows, a virtual reality experience exploring the Milky Way and a clutch of night-time ‘star parties’ across the length and breadth of the National Park.

The festival’s free flagship event, Stargazing South Downs, which takes place at the launch of the school half-term, not only returns to Midhurst but is also coming to Petersfield and Lewes.

Activities include a giant ‘dark night skies’ colouring wall, the chance to dress up as an astronaut against the backdrop of the moon, talks on nocturnal wildlife and interactive science demonstrations.

‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley, lead ranger at the SDNP, said: “With the full moon falling during the festival, we’re looking forward to telling the story of our nearest neighbour and the influence it has on plants, animals and us.”

Dan 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.”

Events and engagement officer Laura Warren said: “There is something for everyone at this year’s festival, whether you’re new to stargazing or a seasoned pro. The festival also ties nicely with the half-term holidays so it’s a great opportunity for young people to learn more about astronomy. 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. So, embrace the darkness and get moonstruck!”

‘A global top spot for stars’

The South Downs National Park is the second International Dark Skies Reserve (IDSR) in England.

One of only 13 IDSRs in the world, it is one of its most accessible as two million people are thought to live within five kilometres of the national park.

The reserve includes a host of Dark Sky Discovery Sites (DSDS), which are the most accessible places in the national park to view the night sky and are based on tens of thousands of measurements of the quality of the night sky and the levels of light.

Current sites range from Hampshire’s Buriton, Harting Down and Butser Hill to Iping Common, Bignor Hill and Birling Gap in Sussex, among others.

‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley, the national park’s lead ranger, said a DSDS is a ‘great place’ to start star-gazing and looking for the Milky Way.

Dan said: “The first thing is to get to the north side of the downs to block out light pollution from the coast.

“The darkest part of the National Park lies on the border between Hampshire and West Sussex - make sure that you’re at least 2 km from the streetlights of Petersfield, Midhurst and Petworth.”

This year’s Dark Skies Festival provides another opportunity to go stargazing with over 30 events across the national park.

They include Stargazing South Downs, a free, family-friendly occasion with no booking required, at 4pm to 8pm on Saturday, February 16 at Midhurst Rother College; Monday, February 18 at Petersfield’s Festival Hall; and Wednesday, February 20 at Lewes Town Hall.

In addition to lectures on various dates at the South Downs Planetarium, Chichester, events include, among others:

Friday, 15 February – Deadwater Valley Trust Sky at Night

Tuesday, 19 February – Star Party at Petworth Park

Tuesday, 19 February – Moon gazing on Brighton Seafront

Thursday, 21 February Stargazing at Slindon

Monday, 25 February - Stargazing and night hike to Beacon Hill

Tuesday, 26 February - Star Party at Goodwood

Thursday, 28 February - Star Party at Old Winchester Hill

Saturday, 2 March – Family friendly puppet workshop at Iford

For full details and to book tickets, visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/events/dark-skies-festival/

Big star count across Sussex will check quality of our skies at night

‘A global top spot for stars’

The South Downs National Park is the second International Dark Skies Reserve (IDSR) in England.

One of only 13 IDSRs in the world, it is one of its most accessible as two million people are thought to live within five kilometres of the national park.

The reserve includes a host of Dark Sky Discovery Sites (DSDS), which are the most accessible places in the national park to view the night sky and are based on tens of thousands of measurements of the quality of the night sky and the levels of light.

Current sites range from Hampshire’s Buriton, Harting Down and Butser Hill to Iping Common, Bignor Hill and Birling Gap in West Sussex, among others.

‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley, the national park’s lead ranger, said a DSDS is a ‘great place’ to start star-gazing and looking for the Milky Way.

Dan said: “The first thing is to get to the north side of the downs to block out light pollution from the coast.

“The darkest part of the National Park lies on the border between Hampshire and West Sussex - make sure that you’re at least 2 km from the streetlights of Petersfield, Midhurst and Petworth.”

This year’s Dark Skies Festival provides another opportunity to go stargazing with over 30 events across the national park.

They include Stargazing South Downs, a free, family-friendly occasion with no booking required, at 4pm to 8pm on Saturday, February 16 at Midhurst Rother College; Monday, February 18 at Petersfield’s Festival Hall; and Wednesday, February 20 at Lewes Town Hall.

In addition to lectures on various dates at the South Downs Planetarium, Chichester, events include, among others:

Friday, February 15 – Deadwater Valley Trust Sky at Night

Tuesday, February 19 – Star Party at Petworth Park

Tuesday, February 19 – Moon gazing on Brighton Seafront

Thursday, February 21 - Stargazing at Slindon

Monday, February 25 - Stargazing and night hike to Beacon Hill

Tuesday, February 26 - Star Party at Goodwood

Thursday, February 28 - Star Party at Old Winchester Hill

Saturday, March 2 – Family friendly puppet workshop at Iford