Stargazers in the North East have been treated to a spectacular display as the Geminids Meteor Shower made its annual appearance, just in time to mark the fourth anniversary of Northumberland 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, Northumberland 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.
“The winter months are perfect for stargazing as this is when the skies are generally at their darkest and most clear.
“Already, in the last few days, we have enjoyed the spectacular annual Geminids Meteor Shower and we can look forward to lots more celestial displays in the weeks to come.”
Kielder Water & Forest Park sits at the heart of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park and is home to Kielder Observatory. The observatory is one of the best locations within the Dark Sky Park to enjoy the region’s pristine night skies.
Lynn Turner, director of Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, said:
“The dark skies are part of the magic of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park. 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. With a new accessible observatory due to open at Kielder Observatory soon, this is only going to become a bigger attraction for the area and, with the protection our dark skies now have, we hope this will continue for many years to come.”
Northumberland National Park is hosting a number of dark skies events as part of its winter event programme. These include a range of astrophotography events at locations across the National Park to teach people how to capture the perfect photograph of the night sky, as well as a ‘Hunting the Aurora’ event to teach people how to plan for and spot the elusive Northern Lights.
For more information about stargazing in Northumberland National Park, visit www.nnpa.org.uk/things-to-do/discover-dark-skies/ or to see the full list of National Park events, including dark skies events, visit www.nnpa.org.uk/whats-on/.