Explore the stars above England’s national parks at virtual dark skies festivalsAndrea Smith

Stargazers in England are in for a treat as several dark skies festivals are due to launch in February in virtual form. These festivals usually take place at national parks, which remain some of the darkest places in the UK, but they can’t operate as normal this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festivals usually organise events such as cycling, walking, running or caving at night, attending a stargazing party of helping attendees expand their astrophotography skills. The first to kick off in virtual form is the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival, which takes place between 5 and 21 February. It includes talks from astronomers, astrophotographers, authors, filmmakers, lighting and design professionals, performers, poets and outdoor adventurers.

The stars in the sky above trees in a forest
The festivals usually take place in national parks © Under Lucky Stars/ Unsplash

As England’s first and largest international dark sky park, Northumberland National Park’s takes place from 12 to 21 February. The festival is being hosted on its website and is led by four regional observatories: Battlesteads, Kielder, Stonehaugh and Twice Brewed. There will be a wide variety of virtual events, including fireside chats with Northumberland’s astronomers and night sky guides and livestreams to help people stargaze from the comfort of their homes and neighbourhood. There’ll be an art masterclass on nightscape photography to encourage children to image the dark skies with mobile phones.

The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park authorities are collaborating on its festival from 12 to 28 February. The programme being organised alongside Go Stargazing features top astronomers and scientists, and participants can watch presentations, join interactive tours and check out live views of the moon. Other activities include quizzes, crafts and baking. This year’s theme explores nature at night, highlighting the importance of preserving dark skies to benefit our natural world.

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The South Downs National Park festival takes place from 12 to 28 February, and is centered on learning about the constellations, the history and folklore that goes with them, and the nocturnal wildlife that depends on them. There will be live link-ups to the South Downs Planetarium with tours of the night sky, and virtual attendees can see rangers setting up for an evening of stargazing in their own back gardens.

Further details on the festivals can be found on the website here.

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