New Forest stargazers overcome ‘night blight’ to flourish

stargazing

Published Tuesday 17 March 2015

Astronomers across the New Forest are heralding the area as an excellent location for stargazing, while raising awareness of the impact of light pollution on dark night skies.

    To coincide with this year's partial solar eclipse on 20 March, the New Forest National Park Authority teamed up with astronomy groups to encourage people to make the most of the area’s dark night skies, and to think about how they could help to reduce light pollution, known as ‘night blight’, in the National Park.

    A solar eclipse is when the Moon moves directly between the Sun and the Earth, a rare astronomical phenomenon that will not be seen in the UK again until 2026. It is a source of excitement for the New Forest’s thriving stargazing groups, who will be gathering to view the eclipse.


    (With thanks to Jake Cannon, Martin Young and Stuart Whicker from New Forest Stargazers for the photos)

    The groups hoped the event would encourage others to take an interest in the hobby and make the most of the New Forest’s dark night skies by trying stargazing at night.

    Dark night skies are one of the special qualities of the New Forest, which has several tranquil areas with few houses and street lights that provide good conditions for astronomers to see an array of stars and planets.

    However these areas are becoming fewer, as lights from urban areas surrounding the National Park create a glow in the sky which obscures all but the brightest stars in many locations.

    So now residents are encouraged to think about how their lighting can have an impact on night time skies, and consider:

    • Switching off outside lights when they are not in use
    • Setting security lights so they are not triggered unnecessarily
    • Ensuring exterior lighting does not point directly upwards
    • Using the lowest wattage possible for exterior lights.

    Sarah Kelly, New Forest National Park Authority Landscape Officer, said: ‘Stargazing is a great way to appreciate the dark night skies of the New Forest and there are several locations in the National Park that astronomers like to visit to see the stars and even the Milky Way galaxy.

    ‘However light pollution has become more of a problem in recent years, making it harder to see the stars, and affecting the visual tranquillity of the New Forest.

    ‘Residents can help to protect these dark night skies by thinking about how they might reduce the amount of outside lighting around their property, especially lights that point upwards into the sky.’  

    Two astronomy groups that are thriving in the New Forest are Fordingbridge Astronomers and New Forest Stargazers. Both have seen an increase in membership in recent years, and welcome anybody interested in the stars, particularly those new to the hobby.

    Jake Cannon from New Forest Stargazers, said: ‘Astronomy is the oldest of the physical sciences and it helps us understand where we have come from and where we are headed, as well as being a good excuse to get outside and meet new people.

    ‘The New Forest is a good place for stargazing as light pollution on the whole is low, although it is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to get away from, so I hope people will become more aware of the effect their lighting can have on the sky.’

    Steve Tonkin from Fordingbridge Astronomers, said: ‘If you want to get into astronomy all you need are a curiosity about the stars and at least one working eye, that’s it!

    ‘Then if you want to take it further try using binoculars, just take them out and try them – it’s amazing how much more you can see with them. If you want to find out more there are astronomical societies all over the country, where beginners are always made welcome and where you can try out other people’s kit and find out what works for you.’

    If you are interested in astronomy, visit www.fordingbridgeastro.org.uk or join the New Forest Stargazers community on Google+.

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    Notes to photo editor:

    Steve Tonkin, Duncan Reavell and Paul Thomas of Fordingbridge Astronomers at Hyde Common in the north west of the New Forest.

    Notes to editor:

    About the New Forest National Park Authority

    Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

    The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

    • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect
    • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

    We also have a duty to:

    • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

    The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

    Visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk to find out more

    Media Contact:

    Matt Stroud, Communications Assistant, New Forest National Park Authority
    Tel: 01590 646650
    Email: matt.stroud@newforestnpa.gov.uk

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