dark skies

Stargazing from the Gower

Rose and I admiring the summer Milky Way. Credit: Will Gater

With the awful weather we’ve had here in the UK this summer I’ve had hardly any astro images to share here on the blog. Thankfully, things seem to be improving* as we enter autumn. Here are a few shots I captured last weekend while camping in the Gower with my wife, Rose.

We camped at Three Cliffs Bay on the south coast. It’s a beautiful part of Wales with clear views out over the Bristol Channel to the south — perfect for observing, low altitude, summer objects like the Lagoon Nebula and the many interesting star clusters in and around Sagittarius and Ophiuchus. The skies were wonderfully dark looking out over the Bristol Channel to the southwest; sadly the same can’t be said for the view looking east, towards Swansea and Port Talbot, where substantial light pollution masked everything but the brightest stars.

Anyway, if you’d like to see some of the objects in these images yourself you’ve got a few weeks before they disappear into the twilight for a while — September’s Sky at Night Magazine has a great observing article on pages 32-37 to get you started.

* I may regret writing that.

The Scutum Star Cloud, within the Milky Way. Credit: Will Gater

The Eagle Nebula (M16), with the ‘Pillars of Creation’. Credit: Will Gater

The Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae among the Milky Way star fields. Credit: Will Gater

Exploring the dark skies of Mid Wales

Back in November I spent a wonderfully quiet week staying near the town of Rhayader, in Mid Wales. The Welsh countryside around where I stayed is renowned for its wildlife and dramatic scenery, but the reason I went there – of course – was for its dark night skies. Unfortunately of the seven nights I was there only one was clear enough to get the telescope out.

Below you’ll find a few of the images I captured over the course of that evening. As you can see, thin patchy clouds and haze enhanced the small amount of light pollution visible, so I didn’t experience the skies there at their absolute darkest. I guess that means I’ll just have to go back and visit again next year.

Venus sparkles above the vibrant glow of twilight. Credit: Will Gater

Jupiter shines through thin mist against a starry backdrop. Credit: Will Gater

The magnificent Orion rises over the skyline. Credit: Will Gater

The Triangulum Galaxy. Taken with a Canon 550D on a William Optics 66mm refractor, autoguided by a Sky-Watcher SynGuider & an 80mm refractor. Credit: Will Gater

The constellation of Auriga (and several bright star clusters). Credit: Will Gater

The Crab Nebula (M1). Taken with a Canon 550D on a William Optics 66mm refractor, autoguided by a Sky-Watcher SynGuider & an 80mm refractor. Credit: Will Gater

New article: “Islands of darkness”

I’ve written an article for the new issue of Sky at Night Magazine about the first International Dark Sky Places to be set up in and around the UK.

From Galloway Forest Park in Scotland to the island of Sark in the Channel Islands these places are home to some of the darkest night skies we have in this part of the world. They are havens for astronomers faced with the ever-growing blight of light pollution – rare places from where we can view the unspoilt night skies in all their beauty.

The article explores how these sites came to be recognised as International Dark Sky Places and what effect their new statuses are having on their surrounding regions. The piece also looks at what the future holds for some of the other dark sky locations across the country while highlighting a few places that may apply for this special designation soon.

You’ll find the feature – entitled ‘Islands of darkness’ – on pages 26-31 of the July 2011 issue of Sky at Night Magazine, available from all good newsagents.