A full Moon is set to disrupt the spectacular Perseids meteor shower when the annual display peaks on the 12 and 13 August.
The full Moon introduces natural light pollution that can be as bad the man-made glare in a city center and for the best views, star gazers are advised to escape the city lights and head out to the big open and dark skies of the countryside where the stars and meteors will be at their brightest.
The National Trust has produced a handy online guide to star gazing and listed some of its best ‘dark skies’ locations to catch a glimpse of this special and natural light show.
Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “The Perseids are always an exciting meteor shower to watch out for. Even in large cities it’s often possible to catch site of some of the brighter Perseid meteors streaking across the sky, but from a really dark site you can sometimes see dozens per hour.
“But despite this year’s Perseid shower coinciding with the full Moon it’s still well worth going out for a look. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky so try looking away from the bright Moon to maximise your chances of seeing one.
It always amazes me to think that what you’re seeing are tiny specks of dust from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up high in our atmosphere. The comet left the dust behind hundreds of years ago and every August the Earth ploughs through it as it moves around the Sun. So each meteor is a little piece of evidence of the Earth’s motion through space.”
Some of the locations highlighted in the National Trust guide include the dramatic landscape around the world famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mam Tor in the Peak District, high above Sheffield and only a short distance from the city of steel.
Philip Broadbent, National Trust Outdoors Programme Manager, said: “Its worth spending the time to find the perfect spot to gaze up at the stars; as once you’re there looking into the night sky it will take your breath away.
“And the best thing is that it won’t cost you a penny and this star time will always stay with you as one of those experiences that money can’t buy.”
This year the National Trust will be working with the team at meterowatch.org (twitter.com/virtualastro) to track the meteors from the Perseid shower as they appear. Tweeting the hashtag #meteorwatch on twitter, with the first part of a postcode and how many meteors seen will build an interactive map of the UK. As well as the map, meteorwatch.org is where you can find all the tips you need for observing the Perseids and lots more info.
August isn’t the only time for star gazing; its great all year round and the Trust website offers a basic introduction to astronomy, including monthly constellation guides, useful facts about the universe and where to find local astronomy groups and events.
More information can be found at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies or www.meteorwatch.org.
Notes to Editors:
The seven best National Trust sites for star gazing and see the wonders of the night sky are:
- Black Down in Sussex – Get closer to the stars on the highest point in the South Downs, just over a mile from the town of Haslemere.
- Teign Valley in Devon – Discover the stars at this Trust property within Dartmoor National Park and close to Castle Drogo.
- Penbryn Beach in Wales – Beautiful, unspoilt mile-long beach on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales, great for a bit of star gazing and a late night paddle.
- Stonehenge Landscape in Wiltshire – Step back in time and discover the ancient skies of Salisbury Plain’s chalk downlands, home to the impressive prehistoric stone monument.
- Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire – Close to historic Ely, the wild landscape of the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve offers dark skies and a wealth of nocturnal wildlife to listen out for.
- Mam Tor in Derbyshire – Escape the bright city lights of Sheffield and experience the peace and tranquillity of Mam Tor’s dark skies in the Peak District.
- Friar’s Crag in Cumbria – Surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Lake District, Friar’s Crag in Keswick juts out into the spectacular lake of Derwentwater; a restful place to contemplate the world above us.
More information about all of these sites is available by visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies
Other great sites include: Flatford and the Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border, Leith Hill in Surrey, Clent Hills in Worcestershire, Buckstones in Yorkshire, Golden Cap in West Dorset, Slindon on the south Downs, South Milton Sands in south Devon, Winchelsea in East Sussex, Goldolphin Hill and Rinsey Cliff in West Cornwall, the Quantocks in Somerset, Divis Mountain above Belfast, Knole Park in Kent and Trelissick in Cornwall.
Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, which is part of the National Maritime Museum. He has 15 years’ experience of astronomy research, specialising in the study of distant galaxies and supermassive black holes. Designed by Christopher Wren, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich is home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the most important historic scientific sites in the world. Today the galleries describe the achievements of the early astronomers, explain the history of the search for longitude at sea and tell the story of precision timekeeping, as well exploring modern astronomy. The Royal Observatory also is home to the state-of-the-art Peter Harrison Planetarium (PHP), London’s only public planetarium which has a regularly updated programme of shows.
The National Trust is Europe’s biggest conservation organisation and looks after special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone. People and places are at the heart of everything it does. Over 3.8 million members and 61,000 volunteers help the Trust look after 300 historic houses and gardens, 1,100 kilometres of coastline and 250,000 hectares of open countryside. Find out more at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/