Astronomy festival in Dalby Forest

Words and photos by Dave Barry

Dalby Forest is one of four areas in England taking part in the Dark Skies astronomy festival, from 15 February to 2 March.

The national parks are some of the darkest places in the country, making them ideal for seeing the night sky.

The other festival locations are the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland and the South Downs.

The organisers are inviting people to discover, learn and enjoy the dark and the stars which will be visible as a result - weather permitting.

There are events for families, first-time stargazers and those wishing to expand their knowledge or astro-photography skills further.

The local events include two at Cloughton, although most are at the Dalby Forest visitor centre, starting with the half-mile Why Stars Matter trail (15 Feb 10am-5pm free).

It will show how stars affect people and the forest, with fun activities along the way.

Hidden Horizons’ immersive planetarium will take visitors on a 20-minute journey to the stars (19 and 26 Feb 10.30am-3.30pm free). They will see the planets of our solar system up close, visit our moon and major satellites of the planets and see spacecraft used to explore these mysterious worlds and improve our understanding.

Both the above events are free, suitable for all ages and booking is not required.

A film called Saving the Dark explores the need to preserve night skies and shows what we can do to combat light pollution (20 Feb 7.30-9.45pm £5/£3).

Some 80% of the world’s population live under light polluted skies. Excessive lighting robs us of night skies, disrupts sleep patterns and endangers nocturnal habitats. This thought-provoking film will be screened four times, followed by a one-hour star party hosted by amateur astronomer Richard Darn.

Booking is essential, via the Dalby Forest website.

Two stargazing events will explore the deep sky with astronomer Andy Exton FRAS (22 Feb 7-9pm and 9-11pm £12/£8).

Visitors will be able to see constellations, planets and nebulae scattered across the skies through a large telescope before visiting the mobile planetarium.

Booking is essential, via the Hidden Horizons Eventbrite website; or ring 817017.

The festival features two nocturnal runs along narrow tracks, fire breaks and the trails which link everything in the forest. Participants will wear head-torches and hi-vis clothing. The runs will be marshalled and marked with glow sticks. Booking is essential, online.

No Ego Challenge returns to the forest with a five-mile course (23 Feb 5-10pm £13.75). The 5km Dalby Dark Run is being organised by Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team (2 Mar 5-9pm £5).

A stargazing event will be hosted by Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society (1 Mar 8-9.30pm free, donations welcome).

The charge made to vehicle users by the Forestry Commission on exiting the forest will be reduced to £3 for this event, at which a code will be supplied.

Go Ape will take adrenaline junkies on a Night Zip, 200 metres of uninterrupted flight (16, 23 Feb, 2 Mar 6-9pm £12). They will be safely strapped to a zip wire and will get to do it twice.

Booking is essential, via the Go Ape Dalby Forest website.

At Newlands Farm near Cloughton, visitors will be given a guided tour of the night sky at two stargazing events (19 and 26 Feb 7-9pm £12/£8).

Booking is essential, via the Hidden Horizons Eventbrite website; or ring 817017.

For all the events, visitors are asked to wrap up warm and take a torch, preferably with a red filter to preserve everyone’s night vision. Take your telescope and binoculars if you have them, and a blanket to lie on, to avoid craning your neck. At some events, hot chocolate and snacks will be served.

There are many more events on the Dark Skies programme. For details, go to www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk.

* Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society is staging StarFest at its Dalby Forest observatory from 29 August to 2 September.