by Staff Writers
London, UK (SPX) Oct 26, 2011
Communities across England will have a twinkle in their eye and get a big environmental and educational boost thanks to Dark Sky Discovery - a pioneering new national and regional partnership of astronomy and environmental organizations led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
A 176.8k pound grant, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and awarded through Natural England's Access to Nature program, will support a 2-year program to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to come together in their local area and enjoy the night sky in a radically new way.
Working with astronomy, environmental and community organizations in every English region, the aim is to involve people in identifying safe, accessible 'Dark Sky Discovery Sites' - places in urban and rural areas where they can take part in stimulating stargazing sessions.
A series of Dark Sky Discovery Sites has been unveiled in England - and also in Wales and Scotland - illustrating the range of great local spots that people can use for stargazing.
Project Leader Dan Hillier, based at the STFC's Royal Observatory Edinburgh site, says: "In every community there is somewhere that is the best place to see the stars. Even in towns and cities, there are places such as local parks where people can enjoy the wonders of the night sky, from planets to meteor showers.
This project will find ways of helping people from a whole range of different backgrounds - such as schools, community and special needs groups - to discover the universe that is just beyond their doorstep."
The project is funding activity in nine English regions so that astronomy and environmental organizations can work with community groups to harness local dark skies for local priorities.
Participants at the launch event at Lee Valley Regional Park included members of the Waltham Forest Blind Association. Caroline Waddon from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), who is visually impaired and has been advising the Dark Sky Discovery project, says, "Community stargazing evenings have a great buzz to them and I have been amazed by the ways in which blind and partially-sighted people can be enabled to feel part of them through activities involving rocks from space, sound and 3D models."
Tony Fox, from Cannon Hill People's Park in Birmingham, is leading the program in the West Midlands. He says: "We are launching our Dark Sky program during our wide-ranging celebrations for the Dewali Festival of Lights, which attracts thousands of people from a mix of cultural backgrounds to the park, to inspire them with astronomy and the night sky."
In the South West, the project's lead partner is Exmoor National Park, which recently announced its new status as England's first International Dark Sky Reserve. Emma Dennis, Landscape Officer at the National Park, says: "This project gives us a great opportunity to involve communities in and around the National Park in promoting our award winning dark skies as well as the conservation of the resource for the benefit to local people and visitors alike".
Other darker areas in the UK that also have Dark Sky Discovery Sites are the Lake District, Kielder Forest and the Brecon Beacons National Park. There are several sites in Scotland, including Skye and Morayshire, where there is already strong community interest in dark skies.
Liz Newton, Natural England's Director for Access and Engagement, said; "The night sky can be spectacular, and this initiative provides a great way for communities to share and experience an often overlooked part of our natural environment."
The project is partnering with the hugely popular BBC Stargazing Live, which will be broadcasting its second series on 16-18 January 2012.
Dark Sky Discovery Website
Space Telescope News and Technology at Skynightly.com
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