As we approach the shortest day, it is an excellent time to look at the night sky, especially on clear nights. Our final blog post of 2018 is written by David Murton of The Commission for Dark Skies. He tells us how to best enjoy the night skies in the Stour Valley and highlights the importance of preserving dark skies.
It’s not widely appreciated, but the night skies within parts of Stour Valley are as dark as anywhere in the UK. However this situation is under constant threat from encroaching development and uncontrolled lighting with its associated light pollution and sky glow. Recent surveys have shown a 2% increase in the artificially lit area every year. If nothing is done we are in great danger of losing the splendour of the Milky Way and the stars for our children forever.
Many of our National Parks and AONB’s are now classified as Dark Sky Reserves and Parks by the International Dark Skies Association, giving them some protection from this blight and the Dedham Vale Society are looking into applying for Dark Sky Park status for their area. To aid in this, they have been conducting an extensive night sky survey to establish how dark the skies actually are and which areas are in need of improvement.
This will be about ensuring the right light in the right place, not stopping all external lighting. Unnecessary or inefficient lighting costs millions of pounds and tons of CO2 pollution every year and simple changes can make a huge difference, not only with regard to astronomy, but also wildlife and our own health.
Dark sky tourism is becoming a big business, with people travelling long distances to be under dark skies. Hopefully increased awareness of the quality of the Stour Valley’s dark skies will encourage holiday accommodation providers to embrace this opportunity to gain much needed off season trade, being only an hour from the M25.
If you have never before experienced the wonders of the night sky, I would highly recommend that you take time to do so. Just choose a clear night, without too much moonlight, and find yourself somewhere dark away from streetlights. You won’t need to travel too far in the Stour Valley to find ideal places. Your eyes will need around 30 minutes to become properly dark adapted allowing you to get the best views. If you need a torch use a red light one, such as a bicycle rear light, as this won’t spoil your dark adaption.
There are some great apps available for your mobile phone or tablet to help you find your way around the sky and explain what you are looking at. If you have a pair of binoculars, make sure that you take them with you. You will be amazed what you will be able to see with them, from the Andromeda galaxy and the moons of Jupiter, to the mountains and craters of the moon.
Above all please support the efforts being made to ensure that these splendours are still accessible to future generations.
The Commission for Dark Skies
Thank you to all who have contributed to the River Stour Festival blog this year and to all who have followed the blog. We are busy planning for the River Stour Festival 2019. In the meantime may we wish you all Season’s Greetings and best wishes for the New Year.