February's Dark Skies Festival goes virtual

The wonders of the night sky will be brought into the nation’s living rooms during this half term (12-28 February) courtesy of a virtual Dark Skies Festival programme created by the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks together with Go Stargazing.

With lockdown hampering people’s ability to travel to Yorkshire for the popular annual Festival, the National Parks, which were both awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in December, have turned to the power of webinars and zoom meet-ups for a virtual event.

Among the stellar line-up of speakers will be scientists sharing the latest cosmic discoveries and upcoming developments in space, including the landing of NASA’s spacecraft on Mars on 18 February.

Astronomers will take viewers on stargazing and moonwatching safaris before encouraging people to step outside their front doors and look up for their own DIY tour of the night sky.

As the full moon appears in the second week of the virtual Festival, experts are planning a live MoonWatch with an informal questions and answers session for those keen to understand more about the lunar landscape they’re seeing.

On other evenings people will be able to watch wildlife and conservation experts as they share why it’s so important to conserve our night skies and prevent the spread of light pollution, particularly to protect wildlife species such as moths and hedgehogs.

Together with photographers sharing top tips on taking great astro images, plenty of early evening sessions aimed at capturing youngsters’ imaginations and both National Parks sharing images and film footage of their pristine dark skies, the virtual Festival will also act as a teaser for when people can once again visit the UK’s largest dark sky reserve area covering 3,500 square kilometres of northern England.

Already there are plans to stage a second fringe festival for all-things dark skies during the autumn half-term (22-31 October) before the main annual Festival returns between 18 February and 6 March 2022.

At other times, a growing number of Dark Skies Friendly businesses across both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks will be offering visitors plenty of ways to experience the beauty of a truly dark sky, whether it’s simply staring in awe at the myriad stars while wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate or joining one of the regular events such as night walks and trail runs or cycle rides under a full moon.

The Virtual Dark Skies Festival will be held 12-28 February 2021. The programme will be a mix of free and paid-for events. More details on www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk

Helen Dalton, Tourism Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park comments: “We first introduced a small virtual programme of events during last October’s fringe festival and had a considerable audience so we’re confident that a similar format on a larger scale this February will be even more popular, particularly as it will help fire people’s imaginations to go outside and view the skies above where they live.”

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant at the North York Moors National Park adds: “There is something very special about spending time under our night skies which are so pristine more than 2,000 stars can be seen in one go and where a walk or run becomes a thrilling adventure when you venture out into a beautiful landscape after twilight.

“This is why we’re keen to use the virtual festival to help open people’s eyes to the possibilities of experiencing something so awe-inspiring both on their own doorstep and once lockdown restrictions are eased and we can welcome visitors again.”