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Embrace the darkness! South Downs Dark Skies Festival returns for 2023

Embrace the darkness! South Downs Dark Skies Festival returns for 2023

Stargazing sessions at 450ft, guided walks through the solar system, star parties, nocturnal wildlife, celestial storytelling and planetarium shows are among the highlights of the Dark Skies Festival.

Now in its sixth year, the popular two-week event returns with a bumper line-up of space-related activities to coincide with the February half term holidays.

With the theme of “Nature at Night”, the festival includes a free downloadable pack of resources for the whole family, including useful stargazing guides and cosmic colouring sheets of the planets and nocturnal wildlife, such as badgers, barn owls and hedgehogs.

Breathtaking imagery will be shared throughout the two weeks from the National Park’s astrophotography competition.

Among the events will be a 45-minute stargazing ride in Brighton’s i360 pod and a fun “Walk The Planets” experience at the picturesque locations of Seven Sisters Country Park, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Hogmoor Inclosure.

Performance storyteller Dawn Nelson will be sharing fascinating folklore from the Milky Way galaxy with bite-size videos, mini-podcasts and live sessions.

Astronomers from South Downs Planetarium and Winchester Science Centre will be hosting stargazing sessions, with the chance to use professional telescopes that show stars millions of light years away.

The festival, running from 4 to 17 February, celebrates the National Park’s status as one of 20 International Dark Reserves in the world, recognising it as one of the best places globally to capture immense views of the stars.

Dark Skies Dan Oakley, a Lead Ranger for the National Park, said: “We believe the skies above our head are as important as the landscape beneath our feet and the stunning starry nights are part of what makes the South Downs so special.

“The beauty of our International Dark Sky Reserve is how accessible it is and we’re proud to have 10 Discovery Sites that offer wonderful stargazing opportunities for everyone, whether you’re a novice or seasoned astronomer.

“As well as being beautiful to look at, dark skies are also vital for nature to flourish as so many nocturnal and crepuscular wildlife rely on the natural rhythm of day into night.”

Joshua Esan, Engagement and Events Officer for the National Park, added: “We think everyone should be able to experience the wonder of our dark skies and learn about the incredible biodiversity that emerges when the sun goes down.

“As always, we are very dependent on the weather, so please do check our website and social media channels on the day of attending one of the stargazing sessions or walks.

“Many of the events you can just turn up to, while some need to be booked in advance, so please do check the programme carefully!”

For more details and the full programme visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/dark-night-skies/dark-skies-festival/

For more information about the Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the National Park, visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/dark-night-skies/where-to-stargaze/

To download a free Dark Sky Discovery pack visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/dark-night-skies/dark-skies-festival/resources-and-activities/

A snow covered church in the middle of a field with the milky way behind it
‘Snow in Springtime’ by Neil Jones, winner of South Downs Dark Skyscapes in 2021/2022 astrophotography competition