Marking four years of Dark Sky Park status

The Milky Way over Harbottle Castle. Picture by Ian Glendinning
The Milky Way over Harbottle Castle. Picture by Ian Glendinning
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  • Spectacular meteor display marks the anniversary

The Geminids meteor shower made its annual appearance, just in time to mark the fourth anniversary of the county’s International Dark Sky Park.

Designated in December 2013, the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park covers 572 square miles (1,483 square kilometres), making it Europe’s largest area of protected night sky.

Thanks to its pristine skies, it was awarded gold tier designation by the International Dark Sky Association in 2013, making it officially the best place in England for people to go to enjoy the Geminids meteor shower.

Regarded by NASA astronomers as one of the ‘best and most reliable’ showers of the year, the Geminids sees the night sky littered with anywhere up to 120 meteors per hour over the course of two weeks within December each year.

Taking its name from the Gemini constellation, where all of the shooting stars appear to radiate from, the shower is actually made up of fragments of the 3200 Phaethon asteroid as it makes its yearly intersection of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

“Our dark skies are something we are extremely proud of,” said Duncan Wise, marketing and visitor development manager at Northumberland National Park Authority.

“Covering almost the whole of Northumberland National Park, receiving the International Dark Sky Park designation was a huge achievement for us.

“Our Gold Tier status continues to play an important role in attracting tourists to the region, especially during the winter season.”

Kielder Water & Forest Park sits at the heart of the Dark Sky Park and is home to Kielder Observatory, one of the best locations within the Park to enjoy the region’s night skies.

Lynn Turner, director of Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, said: “The International Dark Sky Park status has been a strong draw for visitors coming to the area, some for the first time and then returning again and again.”