Exmoor Dark Skies Safari Experience

We would not be searching for breaks in the cloud tonight, I could see: a completely clear sky greeted us as we stepped out of the Landrover. We were in an unlit car parking area on the top of an Exmoor hill on a cold, early March night, air temperature at zero and a sneaky breeze. I was glad I was wearing the thermals.

Our guests, James and Mary (not their real names) were here for the Stargazing experience; Mary has arranged it as a surprise for James, who has an active interest in Astronomy. Our eyes needed to adjust to the night sky, so I switched even the interior lights out and we used red torchlight to see where we were stepping. The first and most obvious sighting was the constellation of Orion, then Jupiter a little to the west of Orion. Ursa Major, or The Plough was very obvious, the ‘pointers’ showing where Polaris and True North were. As our eyes became more accustomed to conditions the question arose of how stars differ in appearance to planets: the answer, said Stuart, is that stars always appear as points of light, whereas planets may be seen as a disk. Looking through binoculars this difference was very clear.

The first cups of hot chocolate were warming and welcome by now, and with Stuart’s guidance we continued to scan the skies: we identified Casseopeia, Sirius, and Leo together with open clusters of stars in Canus Major and a double cluster in Perseus. At times, the sky was so clear and so many stars visible that it became difficult to pick out the major constellations, but experience and technology won. Despite the hot drinks, we all admitted to feeling the cold before our Safari time was up and when both Mary and James had seen enough we adjourned to the bar of the Exmoor White Horse where Stuart opened useful programmes on his laptop and James picked away at his knowledge of astronomical objects and useful ‘apps’ while I gave Mary some helpful suggestions for their Exmoor walk the next day, all over a drink . It was the right way to complete the evening.

Join us on our next Exmoor Dark Skies Safari

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