Orion in the Peak
The Peak District National Park (PDNP) have recently announced an excellent public engagement light pollution project, Orion in the Peak.
I first contacted PDNP in early 2008, in my role as UK Co-ordinator for IYA2009, as part of my efforts to encourage UK parks to consider working towards becoming a Dark Sky Place, through the International Dark-sky Association’s programme.
In the end it was Galloway Forest Park that was first to become a Dark Sky Park (the UK’s first), but PDNP and Exmoor NP are working hard to gather the data they need to submit an application.
The Peak District was the UK’s first national park, formed in 1952, and is also the UK’s busiest, with an estimated 22 million people visiting each year (this makes it the world’s second most visited national park, after Mount Fuji National Park in Japan). This is due to the Peak District’s proximity to so many large cities, with Manchester and Liverpool in the west, Leeds in the north, Sheffield in the east, and Birmingham to the south. This means that the park’s skies are not free from light pollution – not by any means.
However the IDA knows that there is value in recognising such skies, alongside the perfectly dark skies of Utah and Galloway. Their criteria is that a park has an “exceptional dark sky resource relative to the population is serves“, and the Peak District serves a very large population indeed: 25 million people within 2 hours drive, and 60 million within 4 hours drive (virtually the whole of England and Wales, and Scotland as far north as the Central Belt).
The Macclesfield Astronomical Society have been working with PDNP on their dark sky surveys, and now it’s the public’s turn!
To encourage local residents to get involved in preserving their night skies the Peak District National Park has announced their Orion in the Peak project:
The Peak District National Park is lived in and visited by many and is an area of the countryside that currently has some dark skies. We are working with others to ensure that our special landscapes and skies are there for future generations to enjoy. We are looking to pursue international recognition from the International Dark Sky Association for the quality of the National Park’s night skies, and we need your help.
They are asking members of the public to:
measure the darkness of the night sky between 31 December 2010 and 5 January 2011, or between 28 January and 2 February 2011. Using this information we will be able to produce a map of night sky quality in the Peak District National Park. The darkness of the night sky can be measured by comparing how the constellation of Orion (the Hunter) appears where you are to a set of sky quality charts, and then letting us know via this website.
They have produced a full set of instructions, available here (pdf).