Northumberland is home to the largest Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park in Europe, a designation conferred in December 2013. But almost any part of this most-sparsely populated County in England gives awesome displays of the night sky. And many places along the coast are just perfect.
We took this 'selfie' whilst watching the Aurora Borealis - the 'northern lights' from the beach at Bamburgh (sorry it's not a more pro shot!)
There can be no doubt at all that Northumberland is the best place in England to enjoy the splendour of the heavens!
Most of the UK's population lives in 'light polluted' urban areas. Northumberland's vast, wide-open and superbly dark skies always bring comments from visitors, unnaccustomed to and unprepared for the majesty before their eyes. You can expect to see up to 2,000 stars in the sky at any one time here in Northumberland.
The Milky Way can't be seen from urban areas, and most UK residents have never seen it. But here, it can be seen in all its glory, looking like an elongated glow set amongst the stars. With binoculars we can see its 'arms' stretch out from a bright central core. It's mind-bending to reflect that this is 2.5 million light years away!
Our mid-summer nights don't get properly dark - another thing which prompts many comments! So from early May to late July the sky is often dramatic and very beautiful - but you won't see many stars. At other times of year, only the weather and the moon impact on our stargazing. The moon will always make the fainter stars hard to see, and so the 'new moon' period marked in our diaries is the best time of all.
Here is a lovely time-lapse video commissioned by the Northumberland National Park Authority, to support the succesful Dark-Sky Park bid, which shows what's in store...
We do have a number of street-lights here in the village and around St Cuthbert's House, so it's best to head for a really dark spot to relax and view the night sky - such as from the beach, or a quiet spot just outside the village. But it's a short journey well worth making, in order to be transported into another world...
We can lend you a pair of binoculars and a blanket or two if you like, and send you off with a hot flask!
There are tons of knowledgeable resources around the internet on this subject. Here are just a few:
Sky Week – regularly updated digest of what's in the sky. www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance
Pocket Universe – plenty of features and star maps. http://pocketuniverse.info/
ISS Detector and ISS Spotter – both will alert you when the ISS is due to pass overhead.
Stellarium – interactive planetarium programme. Easy to use and shows the night sky realistically. Free and available for Windows and Mac. www.stellarium.org/en_GB/