In 2016 the South Downs National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve. This means that us folk living here in East Sussex are fortunate enough to have access to some of the best star gazing locations in the whole country. Regardless of restrictions enjoying the night sky is something we can all embrace, be it from our own front yard or further afield. So dig out your warmest blanket, your finest binoculars and a warm drink and get ready to indulge some celestial escapism…
What to take
You don’t have to invest a fortune in expensive kit to enjoy a bit of star gazing but it certainly helps to be prepared especially at this time of year. Pack the following and you can be assured you’ll be warm, safe and well informed:
- Warm clothing with plenty of layers
- A torch. A red light setting is best as this will allow your eyes to adapt better to taking in the night skies.
- Something to sit on – blanket or camp chair.
- A warm drink
- Optional – binoculars or telescope. You can of course enjoy star gazing without these but if you have them lying around at home bring them along.
- A pocket guide to the night sky or phone app. Try Sky View or Pocket Universe.
Image of the Milky Way at Lake Wood in Uckfield by Charlie Moss
Where to go
Of course you can watch the stars anywhere but if you’re looking for a really special experience head out of town away from any light pollution and look for a good viewing point. Here are just a few local suggestions.
Ashdown Forest – Plenty of easy access points thanks to parking at spots such as Gill’s Lap. For the best vistas try the Milne and Shepherd Memorial or the Airman’s Grave.
Devil’s Dyke – This incredible V shaped valley in the heart of South Downs Dark Skies territory makes this an ideal viewing point. Make sure you take a good torch and wear decent foot wear for this one.
The Observatory Science Museum at Herstmonceaux – This wonderful, hands on science and discovery centre is a must for anyone with an interest in the stars. Sadly closed due to the pandemic at the moment the Observatory usually holds regular star gazing events using their huge, historic dome telescopes. Keep your eyes peeled for when they re-open!
Ditchling Beacon – Standing as the highest point in East Sussex Ditchling Beacon offers itself as the perfect location to gaze at the stars thanks to 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape from the summit.
Dark Skies at Devil’s Dyke by Charlie Moss
Events to look out for this February
February 11th sees a New Moon rising. This actually means there’s no moon in the sky at all allowing other celestial activity easier to see. Look out for Andromeda Galaxy which should be visible to the naked eye if the skies are clear.
The South Downs Virtual Dark Skies Festival runs between February 12th – 28th. The events includes live link ups to the South Downs Planetarium, talks from Park Rangers and a Dark Skies Quiz.
February 18th is the date that Perseverance, NASA’s rover is due to arrive on Mars. You won’t be able to watch this one with a telescope but you can tune in to NASA’s live broadcasts and watch space history as it happens!
February 27th sees a full moon. The native Indians call this particular full moon the Snow Moon as it often sees the heaviest snowfall…let’s see!
The Milky Way at Lake Wood and the Milky Way at Devil’s Dyke both taken by Charlie Moss (charliemossphotography.co.uk)