To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the world’s first Dark Sky Discovery Sites were unveiled yesterday at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith.
The Dark Sky Scotland partnership named the two sites as Newbattle Abbey College and Highland Council’s Glen Nevis Visitor Centre grounds, near Fort William. The two sites, which are relatively free of light pollution, tall buildings and are safe and accessible, were chosen following a winter of community astronomy activities led by the John Muir Trust, the Highland Council Countryside Rangers and the Forestry Commission Scotland.
Dan Hillier, from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, which is supported by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council and the University of Edinburgh, and which leads the Dark Sky Scotland partnership, said: "Many of us live in light polluted towns and cities yet in every community there is somewhere that is the best local place to go to look up and discover the stars. From these places, which might be a park or playing field, you can see planets, hundreds of stars, space satellites and other wonders of the night sky. The organisations that have identified these first two Dark Sky Discovery Sites have taken a world leading role in helping people to discover the Universe that is on their doorsteps."
The announcement of the sites took place yesterday at Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland’s only adult education residential college. Depute Principal at the College, Norah Fitzcharles, said: "Newbattle Abbey College is delighted to be designated as a Dark Sky Discovery Site. We hope that this will encourage students, staff and members of local community groups who live in an urban environment, to discover the night sky. As a college, our main function is to provide learning experiences which will engage, inspire and educate people helping them develop an enquiring mind."
Jeremy Thompson of Forestry Commission Scotland, which works closely with Newbattle Abbey College to benefit the local community, said: "Woodlands are a fantastic place to view the stars from. Not only do you get a still silence but it adds a natural feel to the whole experience of stargazing. This project is a great example of adding a new and exciting dimension to visiting a woodland at night."
Councillor Iain Ross of The Highland Council's Planning, Environment and Development Committee said: "There are wonderful opportunities in the Highlands to view and experience the fascination of planets and space. Glen Nevis is an accessible location which offers a site free of light pollution and one where people can enjoy a range of community activities."
"Many people visit Glen Nevis from developed areas with lots of light pollution and are often amazed to see shooting stars, the Milky Way and entire constellations at night in Scotland's wilder places," commented Alison Austin, Nevis Conservation Officer for the John Muir Trust. "It is great that Dark Skies Discovery Sites can highlight places like this and help people discover the night sky."
Catriona Morrison, communities and greenspaces officer for Scottish Natural Heritage which, alongside the Scottish Government and the Institute for Physics Scotland, funded the programme, said: "This might, at first sight, seem to be an odd thing for SNH to fund but it isn’t. We are very keen to encourage people in urban areas to get out and enjoy the green spaces where they live. Looking up into the night sky and wondering at the beauty of the stars is one way of doing this and the night sky itself is an often forgotten part of our heritage. "I hope this initiative will be a great success and will give many more people the opportunity to have an enjoyable time outdoors. This project will also help to raise awareness of the importance of places where people can appreciate the night sky. "
More Dark Sky Discovery Sites will be identified during 2009 by organisations involved in the Dark Sky Scotland programme and similar Dark Sky programmes in other parts of the UK and Ireland. A similar initiative is being set up in the United States.
The participants at the launch carried out simple light pollution measurements and fed their findings into the international Globe at Night survey, 16-28 March. Many public stargazing events will take around the UK during the Spring Moonwatch, 28 March – 5 April.
Images are available from the media page on the Dark Sky Scotland website http://www.darkskyscotland.org.uk/press-media/20090326/index.html
1. Students study the stars at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkieth which, together with the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre near Fort William, have become the world's first Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Credit Forestry Commission Scotland
2. Rebecca MacKinnes making her own night sky umbrella at the Dark Sky event at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Credit: Miriam Iorwereh
NOTES TO EDITORS
The Dark Sky Scotland partners are the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, Glasgow Science Centre, the Institute for Physics Scotland, Careers Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland, working with amateur and research astronomers in Scotland.
The International Year of Astronomy 2009 The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) is a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture. It is intended to stimulate worldwide interest not only in astronomy, but in science in general, with a particular slant towards young people. IYA 2009 is being supported in the UK by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics.
Dark Sky Scotland www.darkskyscotland.org.uk Newbattle Abbey College www.newbattleabbeycollege.ac.uk Nevis Partnership www.nevispartnership.co.uk International Year of Astronomy 2009 and Spring Moonwatch www.astronomy2009.org.uk