The best places in the UK to watch the stars

A woman with a telescope stargazing

2021 saw a new space race unfold as billionaires strived to be the first to launch. With exciting innovations happening in the space industry and the possibility of commercial flights in the future, now is the perfect time to look up at the stars and gaze in wonder.

The night sky can look beautiful on any clear night, but to get the full effect you need to get away from light pollution. Here are five of the best places to head in the UK to stargaze.

1. Brecon Beacons Dark Sky Reserve

If you look at a light pollution map of the UK, it’s clear why Wales is popular with stargazers. The Brecon Beacons has been a dark sky reserve since 2013 and it can offer you clear views of the constellations. The national park regularly hosts events you can take advantage of as well. Among the best spots to view the stars are Usk Reservoir, Llanthony Priory, and Crai Reservoir.

2. Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms is known for being beautiful, and it’s no different at night. It is the most northernly Dark Sky Park in the world, and for lucky visitors, the northern lights can sometimes be glimpsed here. The Cairngorms is on the same latitude as popular northern lights destinations like Norway and Alaska. The northern lights can be elusive but you can increase your chances by heading closer to the coast, where there is less chance of cloud.

3. Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve

Exmoor National Park was the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe. In the southwest of England, the park has minimal light pollution, and on a clear night you can even see the Milky Way with the naked eye. The park has lots of features that can make your trip special too. You can hire telescopes, walk the Dark Sky Discovery Trail, or book a guided stargazing event. The Dark Skies Festival will take place between 14 and 30 October 2022.

4. North York Moors National Park

If you want to try different spots when stargazing, the North York Moors National Park is a great choice. The park boasts three Dark Sky Discovery Sites. There’s a host of events held throughout the year if you want to learn more about the skies, including the Dark Skies Festival between 18 February and 6 March 2022. Other frequent events mean you can learn how to photograph the skies, use a telescope, and more.

5. Carrick-a-Rede

The Antrim coast is more often associated with the Giant’s Causeway, but it’s also home to one of the two Dark Sky Discovery Sites in Northern Ireland. The famous Carrick-a-Rede bridge, which was first erected more than 250 years ago by fishermen, makes this destination worth a visit during the day. At night, it boasts one of the darkest skies in the country, making it perfect for picking out constellations.

Astronomy events to add to your calendar this year

If you want to see something truly spectacular a bit of planning can pay off. Throughout the year some astronomy events are set to offer you stunning views – if the weather is on your side! Here are just a few of the times when you can see sights as you look up at the stars.

  • Perseids meteor shower – Throughout the year there will be plenty of meteors showers but if you want it to increase your chances of seeing plenty of meteors, the Perseid meteor shows is a good option. In 2022, the best dates to watch the Perseids meteor shower will be 12-13 August. You can expect to see many bright, fast meteors with trains, possibly up to 100 an hour.
  • Total lunar eclipse – On 16 May 2022, a total lunar eclipse will occur. In the UK, you will not be able to see every part of the eclipse, but you will be able to see it at totality when the moon turns red. The best time to view the eclipse will be between 4:29 am and 5:06 am.
  • Solar eclipse – This year you can see a partial solar eclipse in the UK on 25 October – the next total solar eclipse won’t be visible in the UK until 2090. The moon will block part of the sun’s disk. Remember, don’t look directly at the sun without appropriate filters when watching the solar eclipse.
  • Supermoon – There are two opportunities to see a “supermoon”, when a full moon is the closest to earth it comes. During a supermoon, the moon appears to be up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. If there’s a clear night on 14 June or 13 July this year, you could witness a supermoon.  

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