Although vast swathes of the UK’s countryside are polluted by the sinister orange glow of our street lamps, you needn’t journey too far to find ideal spots for your astronomical telescopes.
Galloway Forest Park, Southern Scotland
In 2010, Galloway Forest Park ascertained a level of acclaim thanks to its status as a Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal location to thoroughly enjoy your astronomical telescope, toasty flask of tea and jam sandwiches. The most popular spot in the park is Loch Trool.
Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Kielder Forest’s 250 square miles of dense woodland beauty are noted as being amongst the darkest in England. Check out Kielder Observatory (situated on the impressive Black Feel looking down on Kielder Water) if you fancy using your telescopes in a little more comfort than usual!
Lundy Island, Devon Coast
Although Exmoor boasts darker skies than many other parks, the ten mile trip across the Celtic Sea to Lundy Island is well worth the journey; a favourite spot for holidaying astronomers.
Nestled just over a mile off the coast of the Wirral peninsula, Hilbre Island is a private island where public overnight stays are unfortunately not permitted. Special permission is intermittently granted to astronomy societies and professional groups via the Friends of Hilbre Island.
Although most of us are within relatively easy reach of a decent spot to set up our telescopes, we heartily recommend a few tailored nights on unfamiliar territory. Coinciding your travels with celestial events is a great way to make the most of your trip.
Many folks can live their entire lives without so much as a hint of the scintillating thrill that is observing a meteor shower. If you – like us – have your astronomical telescopes and binoculars at the ready for an exciting year of meteoric astronomy action, check out our quick guide to the best meteor showers visible from the UK during 2011.
Lyrids Meteor Shower(21st-22nd April) – Peaking at around 20 meteors per hour, Lyrids is sometimes visible as early as 16th April right through to 25th April. Look towards the constellation Lyra to see radiating meteors. This shower is of note thanks to the incredibly long trails left in the wake of meteors (sometimes lasting many seconds)
Perseids Meteor Shower(12th-13th August) – Arguably one of the best showers to observe (peaks at around 60 meteors per hour) Although looking to the constellation Perseus through astronomical telescopes or binoculars between 23rd July and 22nd August could reveal many more meteors.
Leonids Meteor Shower(17th-18th November) – Annually peaking at 40 meteors per hour, this cyclic shower peaks magnificently every 33 years, resulting in hundreds of meteors visible (most recently in 2001) emanating from the constellation Leo.
Geminids Meteor Shower(13th-14th December) – Often cited as the best meteor shower in celestial history, Geminids can peak at up to 60 multicoloured meteors per hour. Check out the constellation Gemini from 6th-19th December.
Although many meteor showers are visible with the naked eye, the visual impact of glimpsing the likes of Geminids or Lyrids through an astronomical telescope is mesmerising!
The winter sky is a fantastic place to test our new astronomy telescopes. Here are a few definitions to get eager star gazers off to a shooting star start!
Asteroids – Thousands upon thousands of lumps of rock orbit the area between Jupiter and Mars. Occasionally, some break free and can pass very close to earth.
Binary – This is an incredible sight to glimpse through astronomy telescopes. The naked eye sees one large star, however telescopes can reveal the true nature of binary stars, which are actually two stars orbiting each other – magnificent to behold!
Galaxy – The Milky Way is a galaxy, and contains around 100,000 million stars.
Light Year – A measure of distance (not time) The speed of light is slightly shy of 187,000 miles per second, making one light year around 6 billion miles.
Meteoroid – Any bit of space detritus that’s free from an orbit and flying through space. If a meteoroid enters the earth’s atmosphere it’s then defined as a meteorite. Millions enter the earth’s atmosphere annually; however, very few survive the journey to the surface.
Satellite – Any celestial object orbiting a larger object is a satellite. The moon is earth’s satellite. The earth is a satellite of the sun.
Star – A luminous ball powered by nuclear fusion. The surface temperature of stars ranges roughly between 3,000°C to 50,000°C
White Dwarf – The tiny remains of a once massive star; the matter of which has collapsed in on itself so much, a spoonful would weight many tonnes.
Always eager to help fill your astronomical telescopes with the most brilliant aspects of astronomy, here are a few key dates you need to keep your telescopes free for a little celestial observation! Check out our blog entry “The Best Meteor Showers for 2011” for information on specific meteor showers.
Remember that dates may not be 100% accurate, so keep your eyes peeled just before and after too.
3rd April – Saturn will be at opposition (closest to earth), making it a great time for viewing and photographing Saturn and its moons.
15th June – A total lunar eclipse!
22nd August – Neptune will be at opposition. Obviously great for viewing, but less powerful telescopes will only see a tiny blue dot.
25th September – Uranus at opposition, although to get a good look you’ll need powerful astronomical telescopes.
29th October – Jupiter at opposition (should be fine to view through most binoculars and telescopes)
10th December – Another total lunar eclipse!
In order to best view celestial events, try to find a spot away from artificial lighting, traffic and trees. Remember to let your eyes acclimatise to the darkness. Consider using a red torch or night vision to read guide books and study astronomy charts rather than a regular torch.
You can keep up to date on celestial events via fantastic news websites and forums like www.astronomy.co.uk. Off out star gazing tonight? Be sure to check out their “The Sky Tonight” section in preparation for your star gazing session.
You may be among the people seeking to purchase new telescopes. After all, such pieces of equipment are the perfect way of enabling you to explore the skies and further your interest in all things astronomical.
However, getting your hands on devices like this can be tricky at present due to the festive frenzy being seen in towns and shopping centres across the land.
Consumers are filling up streets and store aisles in their bid to stock up on Christmas presents, cards, wrapping paper, decorations and gifts.
So if you plan to head into a retail outlet to get telescopes, you might want to think again.
After all, you may even struggle to find a parking space and, if and when you eventually succeed in this task, you will still have to battle your way through throngs of people and wait in long queues before you can begin your journey home.
Rather than taking up a small proportion of your day and being easy, such a mission may become stressful soak up many hours.
However, you needn’t despair. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it is now possible for you to source such items from the comfort of your own home or office using the internet.
So, next time you have a spare few moments, you should stick the kettle on and settle down with a relaxing brew while you select and order your item of choice.
And, while you do, spare a thought for those poor folks who weren’t as canny as you were and had to struggle through the Christmas chaos!
Studying the stars is surely one of the most interesting things an individual can do. After all, in some ways it allows us to bridge the gap between where we stand on Earth and those fascinating and illusive entities we see when we look up into the night skies.
Indeed, our interest in such matters is one of the most remarkable features of humans as a species.
After all, no other animal is found star gazing, at least not that we know of.
And many of the cleverest people throughout history have engaged in this endeavour.
So, if you are a parent, you may well be eager to provide your children with the opportunity to come into contact with this discipline.
After all, if they are exposed to such ideas from a young age, they may go on to develop a life-long passion for astronomy. Who knows, they may even go on to make a career out of it.
One of the best ways of allowing boys and girls to engage with the rest of the universe is by providing them with telescopes from an early stage.
By doing this, you are showing them just how grand and intriguing the objects outside of our planet’s atmosphere are.
Depending on the personalities of your youngsters, this may well ignite their imaginations. And at the very least, you are providing them with an advantage when it comes to their education, as they are likely to have a better grasp on such matters than their peers who have not had access to telescopes.