This week (19th - 26th April) is International Dark Skies week - a week long celebration of the night sky. This year, people around the world are being encouraged to come together online to celebrate the night and engage with authors, creators, scientists, and educators
With the sea stretching along the whole of the east side of the Northumberland Coast AONB (therefore no light pollution there) we have some fabulous stargazing opportunities. This area is also one of the best locations in England for a chance of seeing the fabulous Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Obviously, at the moment, it is not possible to actually visit but you can enjoy your own night sky, stargazing and exploring space from home – either in your back garden or through the internet.
April is one of the best months for stargazing. The new moon on Thursday 23rd April will provide us with darker skies - ideal for looking at the night sky. One event to look out for is the Lyrid Meteor Shower that peaks in the early hours of the Wednesday 22 April. Meteors (aka shooting stars) are small bits of debris left in the wake of celestial objects like asteroids or comets. When the Earth passes through this trail of material on its orbit of the sun, it catches a number of these pieces, which fall into our atmosphere. These objects move extremely fast (about 50km/s), causing the surface of the meteor to reach temperatures as high 1600°C and to glow brightly, which is what we see as a short-lived streak of light in the sky.
So what’s the best way to view this spectacle? Wrap up warm, sit in a deckchair with a flask of hot chocolate and just lie back to take it all in. Find a place with as big a view of the night sky as possible, and if you are able (though not important) look towards the eastern night sky. You could see about 20 shooting stars per hour with just your own eyes (be warned - binoculars and telescopes won't help you see shooting stars).
On Sunday 26 April, the Moon and the planet Venus will be very close to each other in the western sky. Venus will actually be at its brightest on Tuesday 28 April. Regarded as the sister planet to Earth due to its similar size, one day on Venus is actually longer than one year on Earth! It takes 243 Earth-days to complete one rotation.
Light pollution refers to artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. It can create a fatal attraction to insects, allowing some predators to exploit this attraction to their advantage, resulting in declining insect populations and impacting negatively on other species that rely on these insects for food or pollination.
Artificial light can cause birds that migrate or hunt at night to wander off course, or to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal conditions for nesting and foraging. Humans also adhere to a circadian rhythm (our biological clock that is governed by the day-night cycle). Artificial light at night can disrupt that cycle making it difficult for us to sleep well and healthily.
There are some top tips that we can follow to conserve our dark skies:
- Make sure your outside lights are fully shielded or angled downwards, so that no light shines up into the night sky
- Cool-white LED lighting can be disruptive to nocturnal wildlife. Choose LED lights that emit a warm-white light i.e. below 3000 kelvin
- Avoid over-lighting and glare by choosing a low wattage LED light. A modern 5w LED bulb is equivalent to a 60w incandescent light bulb and is ideal for most domestic uses.
More information on combating light pollution is available at https://britastro.org/dark-skies/
The Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership is part of the Northumberland Dark Skies Steering group, a partnership that includes Northumberland National Park Authority, North Pennines AONB Partnership, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Forestry England, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, Northumberland County Council and Northumberland Tourism Ltd.