Most asked: ‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley

January 30, 2017

Send us your questions about a particular area of work in the National Park to newsletter@southdowns.gov.uk

Dan OakleyAnswering this month is:
‘Dark Skies’ Dan Oakley, Lead Ranger for the SDNPA.

Why are dark skies important?
The Milky Way is our home and without dark skies we can’t see it. I love being able to look beyond the spiral arms of our own galaxy and on to the twinkling lights of other stars and I know, from seeing the smile it puts on other people’s faces, that they feel the same. Beyond that they are also vital for wildlife such as bats and moths.

Where’s the best place to see the Milky Way in the National Park?
The first thing is to get to the north side of the downs to block out light pollution from the coast. The darkest part of the National Park lies on the border between Hampshire and West Sussex. Make sure that you’re at least 2km from the streetlights of Petersfield, Midhurst and Petworth. Dark Sky Discovery Sites are great places to start. There are currently seven across the National Park, click on the map below to find your nearest and look out for news of more coming soon. Then look up. You can’t miss it.

Do I need to buy a telescope?
Really nothing beats being able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. If you want to discover the hidden gems of the sky you will need a telescope. For about £100 you can buy one that will help you see galaxies, clusters, nebula and planets but the best way to get started is to join a star party organised by a local astronomy group who will have their telescopes set up ready for you to enjoy. There are lots of star parties happening during the South Downs Dark Skies Festival and you can find more during the year on the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies (SAGAS) website.

I need outside lights for security. What should I install?
The main use for security lights is as a deterrent and a way to spot individuals behaving suspiciously. You don’t need more than 500 lumens to achieve this and can reduce the impact further by installing the lights just above head height, pointing down and with a proximity timer. The main thing is to avoid the cheap over-bright and undirected lights which pollute the sky, literally for miles around.

Do I need planning permission for lighting?
Planning permission is only usually needed for non-domestic lights above 1,000 lumens. At this point it’s likely you’ll need a lighting engineer to make sure that the lighting is appropriate to your task. It may also need to be installed on a separate structure which would need planning permission.
For most domestic lighting, planning permission is not required, but it is still important to install it correctly.

How do I find astronomers?
There are plenty of astronomy groups going out regularly in and around the South Downs. Joining one of their star parties (see above) is a great way to meet volunteer experts who will show you how to look through and use a telescope before you part with money.

NEXT MONTH: School activities in the South Downs

Will you come and teach my class? How can I encourage schools to visit our site in the National Park?

Send your questions for Jonathan Dean, Education Officer for the South Downs National Park newsletter@southdowns.gov.uk