Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Coquetdale branch

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Members of the Coquetdale branch of the Wildlife Trust were treated to a most interesting illustrated talk by Richard Darn on the subject of Stargazing.

Although Richard is a media consultant, his life-long passion has been astronomy and he is extremely knowledgeable on the subject and he is very much involved with the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park at Kielder.

He told the group that 85 per cent of people in this country have never seen the Milky Way because of light pollution.

There are some 2,000 stars to be seen in a clear night sky in our region and the dark skies in Northumberland make it a unique area. At 580 square miles, it is the largest dark sky park in Europe, covering the whole of the Northumberland National Park. In this vast area, there are only 2,200 residents, which is just two per square kilometre.

There was some discussion on dark skies and wildlife. Most research indicates it may be harmful but it has been suggested that light equates to longer hunting hours for some migratory birds. Light pollution has also been linked to human ill-health and costs the UK economy about £1billion per annum. In our dark skies, it is possible to see the Andromeda galaxy which is 2.5million light years away with the naked eye and plenty of other objects can be glimpsed which are impossible to see from urban areas.

Using photographs, videos and a clever programme called Stellarium, Richard was able to show the group how some stars that appear to be single stars are in fact double or even clusters of stars all bound together by gravity.

The Stellarium programme is free to download onto your computer and an app called the ISS Detector/Spotter will tell you when the International Space Station is due to pass overhead. This is also free.

On October 21 and 22, there will be a meteor shower visible in our skies – so find a dark place and get spotting.

The next meeting is on Monday, November 3, at 7.30pm in the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury, and will include a talk by Mike Pratt from Northumberland Wildlife Trust.