Join the hunt for Princess of the night sky

Everyone loves a clear sky and the chance to see the stars. This autumn, a national park is calling on as many people as possible to go out and hunt for a Princess in the sky. The South Downs National Park wants to see how many people can spot Andromeda, one of our closest neighbouring galaxies. In Greek mythology, Andromeda, the daughter of Queen Casseopeia, was chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster as a punishment for her mother’s vanity, but she was saved by the hero Perseus. The South Downs National Park is keen to find out where and when the galaxy named after Andromeda is visible to the naked eye, as well as where the orange glow of light pollution blocks her from sight. It’s hoped that this information will offer a wealth of evidence about the quality of the South Downs’ night skies and whether it might be possible to gain Dark Sky status in the future. Dan Oakley, South Downs National Park ranger and keen amateur astronomer, said: “Perseus found Andromeda chained to a rock, but you should be able to spot her as a faint hazy galaxy within the Andromeda constellation to the top left of the square of Pegasus. “Stargazers are being asked to let us know where in the National Park they can spot her with the naked eye before the end of November.” He added: “With the South Downs National Park sitting in the middle of the most populous part of the country most of us will be used to seeing the orange glow of light pollution and may not even realise the rich landscape of stars hidden above us. “But there are still places in the South Downs where the night skies are dark enough to reveal an astonishing and glorious starscape. “By taking part in our search for Andromeda you can help us measure the quality and area of these dark skies and look at how we can protect this precious and often unappreciated special quality of the South Downs.”

What is a Dark Sky area of park?

The UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe. To find a dark sky near to your home you need to get away from bright lights, such as street lighting. It could be that your own back garden is a great “dark sky” spot or the local park, but for most people living in towns and cities, you will need to get out into the country for a good dark sky vantage point. The darker the sky the more stars you can see. For example, from a city centre location you might see about 100 stars with your naked eye. Yet, under a really dark sky you’ll see more than 1,000 stars. It’s even possible to see our own galaxy, The Milky Way, stretching across the sky.

Official Dark Sky locations in the UK

The International Dark Sky Association has recognised three large dark areas in the British Isles: The Dark Sky Discovery Partnership's network of Dark Sky Discovery Sites pinpoints the best spots in a number of rural and urban areas to see the night sky. How to take part in the hunt for a Princess in the dark sky:
  1. For the best results pick a night when the sky is clear with no haze or clouds. Wait about 30 minutes after the sun has set and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Choose an observation point, away from bright lights, with good all-sky visibility.
  2. Look east to find the top left star of the square of Pegasus. The haze of the Andromeda Galaxy is to the left, above the line of three stars that make up the constellation of Andromeda.
  3. Submit your results at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SDNPA-Andromeda.
  4. Find out more at www.southdowns.gov.uk/looking-after/dark-skies/get-involved.
And do tell us how you get on hunting for Princess Andromeda.

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