With less than a month to go until the clocks go back the conversations have begun about the darker evenings and go something like this:
“The sun set early last night”
“yeah, the street lights were on when I woke up today”
And to this I say ‘whoop’ for a number of reasons – evenings become a cosy time to warm up by the fire and enjoy a steaming mug of hot chocolate, harvest is under way so hearty soups made from great root vegetables are appearing on menus, and there will be increasing opportunities to get out and see the stars.
Scotland is lucky to have a large amount of wide open spaces where, on a clear night, you can gaze up and see a sky pin-pricked with thousands of twinkling lights. One of the best places to go star-gazing is at Scotland’s Dark Sky Park in Galloway Forest Park where the night’s sky has revealed countless stars scattered from horizon to horizon, shooting stars, planets, comets, the Milky Way and even the Northern Lights.This year, for the very first time there will be a Space Shuttle Bus service between Edinburgh and the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, running every Friday and Saturday throughout October.
My ability to identify stars is mainly due to a short story that I loved as a child (The Owl Who was afraid of the Dark), but when I go up to Argyll in a few weeks I hope I should be able to spot the bright North Star, diagonal Orion’s Belt, and the s-shaped Plough, and maybe try keeping an eye out for Cassiopeia and Pegasus, with the help from the many charts which are available online. Even when I can’t spot a particular constellation, I find that staring up at endless stars is a humbling and magical experience.
Other places across the country have been noted for their excellent dark skies are the Dark Sky Discovery Points, from south west Kintyre Argyll, right up to Caithness in the Highlands. These can offer great views of the Milky Way, Orion, and some also hold events. Why not use the free BBC audio guide and set out with your binoculars, a compass and one of the many handy stargazing mobile apps?