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Dark Sky Status in Alderney?

300744_10150304013858461_282162997_n Richard CollettDark Sky Status is something we are becoming more familiar with as a nation. Programmes such as Stargazing Live have recently gained popularity and boosted the awareness of those areas where skies unpolluted by artificial light show off our night sky to its best advantage. The little island of Alderney is one such place and is hoping to join its neighbouring island of Sark where Dark Sky Status was granted in 2011.

On a recent episode of the BBC2 Stargazing Live programme, the 60 mile journey from Weymouth, on the south coast of Dorset, to Alderney, was chartered by an 8 strong crew aboard a catamaran purely using navigation by the stars or astronavigation. Alderney’s resident astronomer, Michael Maunder, a friend of the late Patrick Moore and co-writer on some of his books, explained how the stars are quite literally more twinkly on the island:

“The main thing about Alderney is the fact that you have extremely clean air coming across the Atlantic for 4,000 miles. Most of the island is at sea level so the air hasn’t got into turbulent motion, or lamina flow, which in England for example, has the effect of something being viewed through frosted windows, making the stars ‘twinkle’. It means we can see objects that are very, very difficult to see in England.“

Read more from Michael Maunder as Alderney pushes for Dark Sky Status.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) has granted five areas as certified Dark Sky Communities, including the Isle of Coll in Scotland. Two of the thirteen Certified International Dark Sky Parks include Galloway Forest Park in Scotland and Northumberland National Park with Kielder Water Forest Park in Northumberland. Both these parks have been granted gold status meaning observers are free from the glare of artificial lights and can gain the best views of the milky way, stars and astronomical phenomenon such as meteors and auroras. The IDSA has also granted seven International Dark Sky Reserves of which Exmoor National Park and The Brecon Beacons National Park have gained silver status. Here, the brighter astronomical aspects can be routinely observed and fainter ones are sometimes visible.

In the UK the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has been thinking up plenty of ways to encourage the public to get involved. Its Dark Sky Discovery Programme enables people to nominate local places where stargazing can be uninterrupted by light pollution. Sites are classed as either ‘Orion’ or ‘Milky Way’ according to the depth of darkness and ability to see the constellations from the naked eye. There is also a comprehensive event calendar and guidance notes about what to look for.

Back on Alderney its not just the night sky that is spectacular – daytime solar activity is also not unusual on the island and Braye and Longis Beach are good places to go at sunrise to view solar pillars or shards of light which shoot upwards and ‘sun dogs’ which are green flashes which light up the early morning sky. In the evening Fort Tourgis is the recommended place to go and is easily accessible when views of the milky way and shooting stars are often nightly events.  With the island having a milder than average climate, it’s easy to grab a blanket and while a way a few hours stargazing on this beautiful island.

For other UK stargazing insights you may wish to read about the recent Dark Sky Status awards in Cornwall

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About the author

Avatar for Christina Posted by Christina

Christina's early memories include boarding a plane to visit Kuwait at the age of two and taking big family holidays in Scotland, Cornwall and France. After enjoying time teaching in London and Holland and marrying into a family spread from Ireland to the Channel Islands and America, it is no surprise that along with husband Julian they trekked around the world when three of their five children were small. Christina now runs the family company and writes and helps with the Travelsmith web and social media sites. Email: christinaclark@travelsmith.co.uk