The Dark Skies Festival: find out what events are taking place

The Dark Skies Festival takes place from Feburary 7-23.

Stargazing South Downs event at Rother College, Midhurst Picture: Anne-Katrin Purkiss
Stargazing South Downs event at Rother College, Midhurst Picture: Anne-Katrin Purkiss

In 2016, the South Downs National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky.

Dan Oakley, Dark Skies ranger for the National Park said: “We’re officially one of the best places in the world to view the moon and stars.

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“From an urban location like Brighton or Worthing we might see about 100 stars with our naked eyes, and the further away from the streetlights you go, the better the view becomes. Under a really dark sky like the South Downs, we can see over 1,000 stars. We can even see our own galaxy, The Milky Way, stretching across the sky.

Late night at Rottingdean Picture: Alex Bamford

“Our special designation came after more than 25,000 individual measurements were taken to map the night skies’ quality across the South Downs.”

The national park has 10 dark skies discovery sites which are considered the most accessible for stargazing, including Bignor Hill on the Slindon Estate where on clear nights you can see the Milky Way, Devil’s Dyke near Brighton and Hove, Ditchling Beacon, and Birling Gap.

From February 7 until 23 the Dark Skies Festival returns to Sussex with a number of events across the county.

These free events will include indoor planetarium shows, a giant ‘dark night skies’ colouring wall, talks about the planets, the stars and nocturnal wildlife, science demonstrations, and, if the night is clear, the opportunity to go outside and take part in some moongazing with the experts.

Stargazing at Lewes Picture: Alex Bamford

The roadshows will include expert guidance for stargazers on how to make the most of your telescope and one lucky person will receive a brand-new telescope as part of a quiz competition.

Laura Warren, events and engagement officer for the National Park, added: “There is something for everyone at this year’s festival, whether you’re new to stargazing or a seasoned pro.

“To tie in with the tenth anniversary theme we will be exploring whether there may be a total of ten planets in the solar system if you count in the dwarf planet Pluto and the mysterious planet X which scientists believe exists, but has not yet been discovered. We’ll also be suggesting 10 actions you can take to protect the night’s sky.

“The festival ties nicely with the half-term holidays so it’s a great opportunity for young people to learn more about astronomy. No matter what the weather is outside, you can still come and learn about the amazing dark skies in our National Park. It’s time to embrace the darkness.”

Events include:

Stargazing South Downs:

Saturday, February 8 – Midhurst Rother College, Midhurst, West Sussex, 4pm to 8pm.

Saturday, February 15 – Steyning Grammar School, Steyning, West Sussex, 4pm to 8pm.

Tuesday, February 18 – Festival Hall, Petersfield, Hampshire, 4pm to 8pm.

Thursday, February 20 – The Town Hall, Lewes, 4pm to 8pm.

All the above events are free to attend with no booking required.

Moongazing on the i360 in Brighton on February 9.

Visit the National Trust’s Petworth House from February , 20 to 23 for fun cosmic activities and workshops with an arts and literary theme.

Dark Skies Stargazing Evening at the Observatory Science Centre in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, on February, 8 and 15.

Star parties will be held on Brighton seafront next to the i360 on February 9, at Goodwood on February 13 and Pulborough Brooks on February 20.

Dan Oakley said: “We’re excited to be announcing the line-up for our 2020 Dark Skies Festival, which really has become one of our most popular annual fixtures, underlining the tremendous interest for stargazing.

“We had more than 5,000 people attend last year and we’re hoping our expanded schedule this year will break all previous records. Seeing the immense views of the starry sky over the National Park is an incredible experience and we’re hoping to share it with more people than ever.

People will be invited to share their images of the stars and moon using the hashtags #EmbraceTheDarkness and #SouthDowns over the two weeks.