Get ready for a stargazing frenzy!

The Milky Way and Aurora at Castlehill Dark Sky Discovery Site, Scotland
(Credit: Gordon Mackie)

This New Year more people than ever across the UK can get inspired by BBC TWO’s Stargazing Live programme (7-9 January 2014) and get involved with STFC’s Dark Sky Discovery programme. STFC is unveiling 26 brand new Dark Sky Discovery Sites that are great for observing the night sky, including six National Trust properties.

As the UK prepares for a stargazing frenzy, STFC is ready with plenty of ways for the public to get involved. As well as our Dark Sky Discovery programme we will also have our ‘Big Telescopes’ roadshow ‘Seeing the Universe in all its light’ at all of the BBC’s flagship events across the three days. Plus there are events organised in many parts of the UK providing people of all ages, opportunities to take part, offering a chance to see star constellations, the Moon and Jupiter through a telescope and to meet astronomers.

Stargazing is becoming ever more popular. Last year saw over 13,000 people take part in STFC’s Dark Sky Discovery events alone. Whatever the weather people launched rockets, heard from astronomers about their cutting edge-research, peered through telescopes or gazed at the stars – for many it was their first ever hands-on experience of astronomy. Dark Sky Discovery Sites are given the status on the basis of being accessible and free enough from light pollution to get a good view of the stars. In England the network has been supported through a Big Lottery Fund grant awarded through Natural England’s Access to Nature programme.

Stargazing by the war memorial at Barr Beacon Local Nature reserve
(Credit: M Bowers)

This year Dark Sky Discovery is announcing 26 new sites, in addition to the 18 announced in November, as the scheme continues to gain momentum. New for this time are six National Trust properties, the National Botanical Gardens of Wales and 19 sites on the Isle of Man. The National Trust properties include St Agnes and Chapel Porth beach in Cornwall, Allan Bank in Cumbria and Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall. The Isle of Man sites include Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle at Peel and Glen Mooar beach. Details of all of the Dark Sky Discovery Sites can be found here.

Some of the stargazing events organised for Dark Sky Discovery Sites this winter, include:

  • 7-9 January - Onchan Park, Onchan, Isle of Man - 7-9.30pm

  • 7-9 January – Barr Beacon Local Nature Reserve, Walsall – 9-11p

  • 9 January- Camas na Sgianadain, Broadford, Isle of Skye - 7.30pm

  • 10 January - Castlehill Heritage Centre, Castletown, Scotland – 7pm

  • 11 January –Westwood Lodge, Lodge Road, Walberswick, Suffolk - 5.30-7.30pm

  • 11 January – Dalby Forest Visitors Centre, North Yorkshire – 8-10pm

  • 5 February - Durdham Down, Bristol – 6.30-8.30pm
The skies above Peel castle
(Credit: Glenn Whorrall)

Jack Penrose, chairman of the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge (FODAG) who was involved with nominating Durdham Down as a Dark Sky Discovery Site, said: “FODAG are delighted to be a part of this initiative as it will extend the already wide portfolio of activities, both formal and informal, available to Downs users. It also fits perfectly with our policy of encouraging the widest possible range of people who visit the Downs, as it will provide an extra pursuit of pleasurable and educational value”.

For more stargazing events to get involved with all over the UK see the BBC website.

Also for BBC Stargazing LIVE, STFC’s ‘Seeing the Universe in all its light’ roadshow will be at all three of the BBC’s flagship events at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Tuesday 7 January), The Forum in Norwich (Wednesday 8 January) and Royal Holloway, University of London in Egham (Thursday 9 January). Tickets for the BBC events in Portsmouth and Egham have now been allocated. The event at The Forum in Norwich is not ticketed.

The ‘Seeing the Universe in all its light’ exhibition features an 8 metre interactive wall and replica telescopes, including ALMA, which resides 5000 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert - the driest place on Earth. There is also a control desk to view images at different wavelengths, something that is crucial for astronomers to be able to build up an accurate picture of the Universe.

Professor Paul Roche, Chair of Astronomy Education at the University of South Wales who saw the roadshow which was seen by thousands in Cardiff last month, said:

Stargazing at Castlehill, Scotland
(Credit: Maciek Winiarczyk)

"The exhibition is a fantastic showcase for the UK's involvement in cutting-edge science, and really shows that we punch above our weight when it comes to the technological and scientific advances in astronomy and space science. It's a great way to demonstrate to a wider audience some of the exciting developments that are happening right now, which could potentially revolutionize our view of the Universe".

The roadshow will also be at a stargazing event at Oxford University on 11 January where there will also be a planetarium show, mini ‘flash’ talks on a range of topics and a chance to handle meteorites. Click the link to see where else the exhibition is heading.

Other stargazing activities involving STFC include:

  • 8 and 10 January - STFC’s Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre - sessions from 6.30-7.30pm and 8-9pm both evenings.

  • 11 January - Heath Business Park, Runcorn – 10am-10pm. STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory is running Explore your Universe activities. Explore your Universe is a national programme of events, experiments and activities to help celebrate excellence in space and particle physics and the wonders of how different materials behave. It provides a range of activities including making a particle accelerator in a salad bowl and a cloud chamber.

  • 13 January - Linlithgow Burgh Halls, Linlithgow - 6-9pm. STFC’s Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre will be leading a range of activities at this event.

  • 24 January - STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire - 5-8.30pm Booking is essential.  To book please email or phone 01235 445959 (24 hour answerphone) and let us know how many tickets you would like.

Notes to editors

Images and video

Images of a number of the Dark Sky Discovery sites are available. Please contact the media team for more details.

Images of the Seeing the Universe in all its light roadshow at other venues where it has been so far are available. Please contact the STFC Media Office for more details.

A time-lapse video of the exhibit being built at the National Assembly for Wales can be viewed here.


  • Lucy Stone
    Deputy Media Manager, STFC
    Tel: 01235 445627 / 07920 870125

  • Out of hours number for urgent enquiries: 07092 982664

  • Dan Hillier
    Visitor Centre Manager, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
    Tel: 07821 800356

  • Giles Merrit Natural England
    Tel: 0300 060 1228 / 07900 608479

  • Big Lottery Fund Press Office
    Tel: 020 7211 1888

Further information

About Access to Nature

Access to Nature has awarded a grant of £176.8k to the Dark Sky Discovery initiative.

Access to Nature is run by Natural England and is part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces programme launched in November 2005 to help communities enjoy and improve their local environments.

Natural England manages this £28.75 million Lottery-funded programme on behalf of a consortium of twelve national environmental organisations comprising BTCV, British Waterways, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Greenspace, Groundwork UK, Land Restoration Trust, The National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.

Through this programme, it is Natural England’s ambition to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to have greater access to our natural environment and bring a lasting change to their awareness and understanding as well as improved links to the natural world, which many of us can take for granted.

Access to Nature closed to applications in May 2010 but for further information about the programme visit the Natural England website.

The Big Lottery Fund is the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. For further information about the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and awards.


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