'Star man' at Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival

Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien

A well-known astrophysicist and popular media commentator on space matters will raise the curtain on next February’s Dark Skies Festival organised by the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities.

Tim O’Brien who is professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester and associate director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics will shed light on some of the greatest cosmic curiosities at the opening event of the fourth annual Dark Skies Festival, which will run from February 15 to March 3.

Dark skies at Dalby Forest

Dark skies at Dalby Forest

Speaking in the atmospheric stately home surroundings of Castle Howard, Prof O’Brien who makes regular appearances on BBC Radio Five Live and Breakfast TV, as well as having featured on Stargazing Live and Radio 4’s Life Scientific, will captivate an audience with his Our Place in the Universe talk.

The Festival’s packed programme of events will then roll out over the fortnight with more than 100 events across the protected landscapes of both National Parks and the Howardian Hills and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Many of the events will be themed around the moon to celebrate the 50th anniversary year of the first landing on the astronomical body by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and because the first week of the Festival will coincide with a Full Moon phase.

Visitors can expect moon gazing sessions using powerful telescopes, nocturnal nature watch evenings together with guided cycling, running and walking events in woodland, across the moors and in coastal villages under moonlit skies as well as family crafting activities such as rocket-making.

Astronomers will take festival-goers on a guided tour of the galaxies, planets and constellations with stargazing sessions and astro parties at many beauty spots and historical sites including Bolton Castle, Malham Cove, Ryedale Folk Museum and Sutton Bank.

Visitors can also enjoy the celestial celebration by learning astro photography skills or hurtling down Go Ape’s night zip wire at Dalby Forest, a new experience introduced for the first time during the 2018 Festival and which has since grown in popularity.

Local restaurants, cafés and food producers are also planning a stellar line-up of themed menus and specials, everything from a new gin through to a dark skies ice cream.

Prof O’Brien said: “For thousands of years humans have looked up to the stars and wondered about our place in the universe. It is crucial that we protect our shared heritage of the night sky and so I am very much looking forward to supporting the Dark Skies Festival.”

Mike Hawtin, outdoor activity tourism officer for the North York Moors National Park added: “We’re over the moon to have Professor O’Brien as our guest. His unbridled enthusiasm for all-things-space is infectious and his talk will set the tone for the rest of the Festival in helping visitors discover the wonders of the universe and value just how precious the night skies are above our protected landscapes.”

Each National Park has three Dark Sky Discovery locations where skies are sufficiently dark to potentially view the Milky Way with the naked eye.

The North York Moors sites are at The Moors National Park Centre at Danby, Sutton Bank and Dalby Forest; The Yorkshire Dales Dark Sky Discovery locations are at Hawes, Malham and Buckden.