Discover Nocturnal Wildlife or Venture Into Space During Virtual Dark Skies Festival

Virtual Dark Skies Festival 2021 Dalby Forest North York Moors Dark Skies cSteve Bell

Whether it’s discovering how bats use echoes to find their prey; posing questions to an astronomer while watching live pictures of the moon; or being amazed at an astronaut’s life during a space mission, this year’s Virtual Dark Skies Festival promises a bumper programme of discovery and entertainment for people of all ages.

The Festival has gone online this year, taking place from 12-28 February. The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, together with Go Stargazing have lined up a host of experts to help bring the event into people’s homes.

Each evening viewers can watch as astronomers, professors, researchers and astro photographers share their passion for the dark side.

This year’s festival is themed around Nature at Night to highlight why darkness is so important to the nation’s wildlife. Families can listen to mind-boggling facts as Dean Waters of the University of York shares the ingenious ways that animals have adapted to the darkness. Whether that’s bats making echolocation calls, or the crazy asymmetric ears of owls.

Virtual Dark Skies Festival Milky Way above Young Ralph's Cross North York Moors cSteve Bell

“Planet discoveries inspired by Star Trek”

Dr Callum MacGregor of the University of Hull will shed light on the vital contribution moths make to the ecosystem. Or viewers can tune into wildlife artist Robert Fuller’s live webcam footage of owls and stoats.

Budding astronauts and those eager to discover more about space and the cosmos will be able to tune into sessions such as Professor Carole Haswell, Head of Astronomy at the Open University talking about ‘Planet Discoveries inspired by Star Trek’. The talk will delve into the work being done to discover distant exoplanets; and the likelihood of finding life on them.

Orla the Alien, who landed in the North York Moors last summer, has now been joined by a number of extra-terrestrial friends that families can adopt if they contact the National Park before 5 February and then let the kids help complete the aliens’ mission to find out about life on Earth.

Children will be captivated by the Space Detectives as they take them on a tour of the night sky. Alternatively, children’s author Colin Stuartwill whisk viewers away on a mission to discover the red planet known as Mars. Here they’ll be able to learn more about life as an astronaut during a seven-month voyage.

Then on 18 February, Go Stargazing will also focus on Mars. What will be happening with NASA’s landing of Perseverance Rover on the planet? Depending on the timing, a livestream of the historic moment will be shown as it unfolds.

Virtual Dark Skies Festival 710 x 399 Dalby Forest North York Moors Dark Skies cSteve Bell


Weather permitting, a team of astronomers across Britain are being put on standby with their telescopes from 18 February. They’ll be relaying live pictures of the moon via the Go Stargazing Facebook page. You’ll see the lunar landscape becoming more visible each night as it moves towards its full phase.

Meanwhile, those interested in night photography can join Paul Clark’s Swaledale Starscapes session. Here, he shares the beautiful images he’s captured over the years. Or participants could study the techniques of astro and nightscape image-taking with tips from specialists Pete Collins or Gary Lintern.

Events are free or have a small charge attached. And many need to be pre-booked by registering a place on the Go Stargazing website.

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant for the North York Moors National Park says: “We’ve designed the virtual programme to reflect the broad range of interests and age groups of visitors that would ordinarily come along to the actual Dark Skies Festival in our National Parks.

“Each speaker is passionate about their subject. And so it could be an ideal opportunity for families to use some of the sessions as part of the homeschooling activity.

“Alternatively, switch off the TV and be prepared to be mesmerised by the fascinating details about darkness and space that our experts share before stepping outside and looking up at the dark sky with a sense of new-found awe.”

Register now to venture into space, or discover nocturnal wildlife wonders during the Virtual Dark Skies Festival.


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