Starry, starry night

I have just submitted my ‘Star Count’ to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). This week they encouraged everyone to go out after dark to count the number of stars they could see within the constellation of Orion – yes that’s the one with the ‘belt’! Last night (27th February) was the perfect night for it: cold, crisp and clear with an amazing night sky just bursting with twinkling stars and the odd planet.

The CPRE is collating the survey results to produce a ‘Dark Sky Map’ of Britain. They believe that the remarkable tranquility that comes with clear, velvety skies speckled with stars is something really special, and they want to make sure that everyone can experience this. But sadly dark skies across the country are becoming increasingly rare, with only around 10% of the UK population able to enjoy an unobstructed view of our galaxy. Artificial lighting not only spoils the clarity of our starry skies, but also affects the foraging and mating habits of nocturnal animals, as well as killing millions of insects which are essential to the food chain and biodiversity. New research even suggests that light pollution, particularly ‘blue light’ from LED lighting, can interfere with our own circadian rhythms and consequently affect our health and wellbeing.

However we are very lucky as, according to the CPRE, parts of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty rank amongst some of the darkest skies in the country. This is one of the best places for stargazing thanks to the low light pollution, open skylines and secluded spots. The Chipping Norton Amateur Astronomy Group’s (CNAAG) main base for observing is at the ancient Rollright Stone monuments just outside Chipping Norton, which have featured on many astronomy TV programmes. They managed to gain special Dark Sky status for the Rollright Stones site in 2015 and are working to extend this across more of the Cotswolds.

If you’re interested in getting more involved, the Chipping Norton Amateur Astronomy Group welcomes new members and visitors and organises local public stargazing events – possibly even one in Shipton soon! So next time you’re looking for something to do in the evenings, don’t forget to consider wrapping up warm and heading outside to witness our beautiful starlit skies.

Here are some useful websites for more information on dark skies and stargazing:

Jan Lund

April – May 2020