Register now to venture into space or discover nocturnal wildlife wonders

Virtual Dark Skies Festival (12-28 February)

Whether it’s discovering how bats use echoes to find their prey; posing questions to an astronomer while watching live pictures of the moon; or being amazed at an astronaut’s life during a space mission, this year’s Virtual Dark Skies Festival promises a bumper programme of discovery and entertainment for people of all ages.

The Festival, which has gone online this year in the light of current travel restrictions, takes place from 12-28 February with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, together with Go Stargazing, lining-up a host of experts to help bring the event into people’s homes.

Each evening viewers can watch as astronomers, professors, researchers and astro photographers share their passion for the dark side.

This year’s Festival is themed around Nature at Night to highlight why darkness is so important to the nation’s wildlife. Families can listen to mind-boggling facts as Dean Waters of the University of York shares the ingenious ways that animals have adapted to the darkness whether it’s bats making echolocation calls or the crazy asymmetric ears of owls.

Similarly Dr Callum MacGregor of the University of Hull will shed light on the important contribution moths make to the ecosystem by nocturnally pollinating plants, or viewers can tune into wildlife artist Robert Fuller’s live webcam footage of owls and stoats.

Budding astronauts and those eager to discover more about space and the cosmos will be able to tune into sessions such as Professor Carole Haswell, Head of Astronomy at the Open University talking about ‘Planet Discoveries inspired by Star Trek’. Suitable for anybody aged 10 and over, the talk will delve into the work being done to discover distant exoplanets and the likelihood of finding life on them.

Orla the Alien, who landed in the North York Moors last summer, has now been joined by a number of extra-terrestrial friends that families can adopt if they contact the National Park before 5 February and then let the kids help complete the aliens’ mission to find out about life on Earth.

Children are also likely to be captivated by the Space Detectives as they take them on a tour of the night sky. Alternatively Colin Stuart, astronomy presenter and children’s author will whisk viewers away on a mission to discover the red planet known as Mars so they can learn more about life as an astronaut during a seven-month voyage.

A few days later, on 18 February, Go Stargazing will also focus on Mars with a presentation explaining what will be happening with NASA’s landing of Perseverance Rover, a minivan-sized robot, on the planet and depending on the timing, a livestream of the historic moment as it unfolds.

Weather permitting, a team of astronomers across Britain are being put on standby with their telescopes from 18 February to relay live pictures of the moon via the Go Stargazing Facebook page, as more of the lunar landscape becomes visible each night as it moves towards its full phase.

Meanwhile those interested in night photography can join Paul Clark’s Swaledale Starscapes session where he shares the beautiful images he’s captured over the years, or get to grips with the techniques of astro and nightscape image-taking by picking up tips from specialists Pete Collins or Gary Lintern.

Events are free or have a small charge attached and many need to be pre-booked by registering a place on the Go Stargazing website.

See the Festival website for full details of the Virtual Dark Skies Festival programme.

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant for the North York Moors National Park says: “We’ve designed the virtual programme to reflect the broad range of interests and age groups of visitors that would ordinarily come along to the actual Dark Skies Festival in our National Parks.

“Each speaker is passionate about their subject and so it could be an ideal opportunity for families to use some of the sessions as part of the home schooling activity.

“Alternatively, switch off the TV and be prepared to be mesmerised by the fascinating details about darkness and space that our experts share before stepping outside and looking up at the dark sky with a sense of new-found awe.”