Bright Stars and Meteor Showers

Casting your eyes skyward on a clear night is an amazing experience at any time of year, but the very best time to stargaze is during a New Moon phase when the skies are at their very darkest, and the stars seem to pop out of the firmament.

The next New Moon (when the Moon is not visible) will occur this Sunday, 15th November. If you have clear skies overhead and able to get away from neighbouring street lights, then take a trip and explore the dark side of the National Park. Here are some simple tips to prepare yourself for your evening with the stars.

Top Tips

Location

Around the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, there are a number of Dark Sky Discovery Sites that are easy to find and have star map panels in place to help you locate key stars and constellations. Some even have 24-hour toilets on-site. Please remember, when stargazing, to be courteous to local residents at night.

a forest under starry skies

Comfort

Wear really warm clothes, hats and gloves and thick-soled shoes or boots. It gets very cold standing around at night. Take a camping chair or a camping mattress to sit on or lie down on. Be patient as it can take 20 minutes for your eyes to get used to the darkness. To keep warm, take a thermos flask of soup or a warm drink. Some nibbles are always welcome too.

Equipment

Your eyes are perfect for viewing the constellations and taking in the majesty of the Milky Way. However, if you want a closer look at star clusters like the Pleiades or the Orion Nebula, then take a pair of binoculars. We recommend you borrow or buy a pair of 10×50 binoculars, which are light enough to carry, provide good magnification and allow a lot of starlight into the lens. Any white light at night will reduce your ability to see in the dark. Use a red-light torch which does not affect your night-time vision.

Information

There are some amazing free astronomy apps now available to download onto your mobile device, turning your phone into a planetarium! These apps allow you to navigate your way easily around the night sky – just type in ‘astronomy’ into the Search of your Appstore or Playstore and download one of many apps available. Alternatively, you can download our pocket star chart from our website.

Leonids Meteor Shower

Early next week, with these wonderfully dark skies may also be the best time to see the Leonids Meteor Shower, which is expected to peak around 17th November. They are called the Leonids, as they radiate out from the Leo (Latin for Lion) constellation (use that app!), which looks a bit like a crouching lion.

Meteor over Northumberland

The Meteor shower occurs each year when the Earth’s own orbit intersects the ‘exhaust’ or trail of ice and dust particles left behind the Comet, Tempel-Tuttle, which is just over 2 miles across and takes 33 years to go round the sun.

The meteors are very small grains of dust (approximately the size of a peppercorn) that burn up as enter the earth’s atmosphere, creating a characteristic streak in the sky. This is where a comfortable camping chair comes in really useful – enjoy!