Friday, December 11, 2009

Stargazing in Scotland

For those of us that have joy-filled memories of lying on our backs in a meadow gazing up at the heavens being amazed and overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the infinite number of stars shining down on us, you will appreciate the efforts of the International Dark Sky Association.

The Association has a program where it approves Dark Sky Parks - places where visitors can see the vast starlit night without interference from the copious light pollution that limits stargazing in densely populated parts of the world. Currently there are only four such parks in the world. There are of course plenty of wilderness areas and huge tracks of sparsely inhabited parts of the world where stargazing is possible. The Dark Sky Association is recognizing national parks or areas that make huge efforts to create a dark sky area.

The International Dark Sky Association not only promotes observing the night sky, but also works as an advocacy organization to raise awareness about the hazards of over-lighting, and working to reduce light pollution around the world. At the Dark Sky website you can find information about the best stargazing destinations as well as practical information about lighting fixtures that minimize light pollution – information you will hopefully share with your town and city officials.

For stargazing travelers, you can find three official Dark Sky Parks in the United States in Utah, and somewhat surprisingly in Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

The latest approved Dark Sky Park is in the southwest corner of Scotland, the first of its kind in Britain, located in the Galloway Forest Park. The park covers almost 200,000 acres with special roads for stargazers - most access is by foot, bikes and horses. Galloway claims there are 7000 visible stars as well as the Milky Way so on a clear night you will have plenty to observe. You can view specific information about the park’s dark sky program at their Web site. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland's own dark sky organization, Dark Sky Scotland, offers astronomy events,  a free downloadable beginners guide to astronomy, and community workshops.

Galloway Forest Park's general Web site offers downloadable guides to their events and twenty-seven walking trails, as well as information about canoeing, biking, and other activities. To reach the park, you can use the VERY useful Traveline Scotland Web site where you can plan your trip throughout Scotland using public transportation. I wish every country had such a service! 

Happy stargazing wherever you are, but certainly if you find yourself in this corner of Scotland - I wish for you many shooting stars.

Photo from NASA archive

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