Embrace the darkness! South Downs Dark Skies Festival returns for 2022 with dazzling line-up

A fascinating journey through the solar system, moongazing sessions, planetarium shows, cosmic craft activities and jaw-dropping astrophotography are among the highlights of this year’s Dark Skies Festival.

The South Downs National Park’s night-time extravaganza returns for 2022 with a bumper line-up of in-person and virtual events over the February half-term holidays (11 to 27 of February).

The theme of this year’s festival is exploring the Dark Skies for yourself and making the most of the 10 Discovery Sites in the National Park – all offering great opportunities to see immense views of the universe.

One of the star attractions will be “Walk The Planets” trails at Seven Sisters Country Park, in East Sussex, and Queen Elizabeth Country Park, in Hampshire. People will be able to enjoy a self-guided trail starting from the sun and meeting each planet in turn at the scale they occur for real in our solar system. Weather permitting, walkers will be rewarded at the end of the trail with the chance to view the stars through large telescopes, guided by astronomy experts.

For those who can’t make it on the night, it will be possible to walk the trail at Seven Sisters during the day from 16 February to 27 February. Queen Elizabeth Country Park will be offering fun activity packs from its visitor centre, themed around nocturnal wildlife and the solar system.

People will also be able to join National Park rangers and astronomers at free stargazing sessions being held at Brighton seafront and Goodwood, near Chichester. Following the Brighton event, “Dark Skies” Dan Oakley, a Lead Ranger for the National Park, will be giving a talk in the BA i360 

Meanwhile, partners will be holding their own events as part of the festival, including at the Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux, Findon Place (with Worthing Astronomers Club), Beachy Head Story (with Eastbourne Astronomical Society and Heritage Eastbourne) and Clanfield Observatory (with Hampshire Astronomical Group).

Come rain or shine, there will be bookable planetarium shows at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester, including an exploration of the Northern Lights. Visitors to Winchester Science Centre will be able to enjoy a 360° subtitled full-dome film that spans billions of years and tells the story of the universe. The Novium, in Chichester, will be displaying a bust of Sir Patrick Moore, whom the Dark Skies Reserve is named after (Moore’s Reserve). The museum will have a wizards and space theme, including a fun Space Day with bookable activities for children.

People can also enjoy learning about the dark skies from the comfort of their own home, with a selection of short films and Facebook lives during the fortnight. Highlights will include how to build a home for bats, top tips for astrophotography and a profile of each of the 10 Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the National Park.

The National Park Authority will also be revealing the winners of its popular astrophotography competition.

The festival celebrates the National Park’s status as one of 19 International Dark Reserves in the world, recognising it as one of the best places globally to capture immense views of the stars.

Dan Oakley, Lead Ranger and who heads the Dark Skies in the National Park, said: “We’re really excited for our festival this year and there’s something for everyone.

“Seeing these incredible views of the stars and the Milky Way is such a wonderful spectacle and we’re so lucky to have such accessible stargazing opportunities in the South Downs. As well as being beautiful to look at, dark skies are also vital for nature to flourish as so many nocturnal and crepuscular wildlife rely on the natural rhythm of day into night.

“As always, we are very dependent on the weather, so please do check our website and social media channels on the day of attending one of the stargazing sessions or walks. Some of the events also have to be booked in advance, so do check the programme carefully.”

And Dan added: “The National Park Authority has provided more than 400 free Dark Skies activity packs to charities and community groups in the local area, helping many children and young people who may never have done any stargazing before. We’re proud to be helping to connect more people with the National Park and all its special qualities.”

 

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