Exmoor National Park – International Dark Sky Reserve.
In 2011, a large part of Exmoor National Park (EPNA) became Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Sounds impressive – so what does this mean and why is it important?
· It is official world recognition, based on collected data, that Exmoor’s night sky is among the darkest in the world.
· It is a commitment by EPNA to maintain its Dark Sky.
· This is important because, in a Dark Sky area, millions (yes, literally Millions) more stars, star clusters and even distant galaxies are visible with the naked eye than can be seen in an urban area polluted with street, car and building lights.
Stargazing is a healthy, free activity needing no equipment. Choose a dark night on Exmoor, lie down on a ground sheet, eyes open and wait for 20 minutes to allow your eyes to adjust - then just gaze at the stars. It’s as simple as that. Tip - for the best dark nights on Exmoor, choose a date when there is little or no moon.
So, what are you seeing when you look up:
· The shapes and patterns of the constellations. Join stargazers throughout the history of humankind in describing the patterns of stars as – The Great Bear or Orion , the Hunter.
· The smudges of distant star clusters and neighbouring galaxies.
· Starlight - the fastest show in the Universe.
Ah, so that has your attention.
Well nothing (known) travels faster than ‘the speed of light’. Light travels the equivalent distance of over 7 times around the circumference of Planet Earth in just 1 second.
But star distances from Planet Earth are usually measured not in ‘light seconds’ but in ‘light years’ from Planet Earth. Take two of the brightest stars in the Exmoor Night Sky:
Regulus in Leo Constellation – 77 light years away – the light you see today left Regulus to travel to Planet Earth in the middle of World War Two.
Deneb in Cygnus Constellation – 1500 light years away – the light you see today left Deneb just after the Romans left Britain.
And individual stars ‘age’ - a bit like humans. Some stars are young (they are hot with blue/white light) some are old (with orange/red light).
Stargazing is a healthy, free, experience, needing no equipment. This ‘Life Cycle of a Star’ is covered in the National Curriculum .
Download this handy Exmoor National Park pocket Guide here
Read all about Sam's Dark Sky inspired trip here
And come and join in Exmoor National Park's Dark Sky Festival this October.
Final thought to ponder.
‘Planet Earth Human’ - travel in our Universe – 1.29 light seconds distant
‘Planet Earth Human’ - observed Universe – 92 billion light years distant.