A trip to Kielder Observatory was my birthday present. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, shooting stars? Milky Way? Or even Northern Lights? I looked forward to the day full of excitement. We hadn’t been there before so I had a quick look on the Observatory’s website. This was the image I had in mind:
(Image from http://kielderobservatory.org)
And the day finally arrived. It took us about 2 hours to drive through the wilderness of Northumberland (not quiet wilderness…). The view was lovely. But the blind summits along the way were even more impressive. We could definitely take off. So I arrived Kielder Observatory in a pretty bad state feeling car sick.
And this was our first sight of the Observatory. With the cars and people for reference, the building looked surprisingly small. It looked like a Grand Designs house to me.
Midges welcomed us warmly (in fact, when I searched “midges”, the suggestions google gave me was: midges in Scotland, midges Northumberland…). There was midge spray around. The staff definitely knew better and were very organised!
We arrived just before 9pm when the talk started. It wasn’t dark yet. We could see Kielder Water from the Observatory. Kielder Water & Forest Park was awarded Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA) in December 2013. Here’s the website for more information about dark skies at Kielder.
It’s quite cool to think that the rural areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park have the darkest skies in England, the largest in Europe! Especially for someone like me, who spent a lot of years of my life in one of the biggest cities in the world and never saw the Milky Way before. This is very special.
The talk we booked was about the Northern Lights. And Gary gave us a second talk about universe in general. It was interesting to think about whether there is life outside our earth in this big big universe. It’s so big that surely there is intelligence elsewhere. But if there’s none, if there’s nothing like us in this big big universe, I can’t help thinking how special we are.
There are a lot of talks to choose from and you can book online on Kielder Observatory’s website. They get booked up very quickly, weeks ahead. The talks were interesting. It reminded me of my geography lessons in school, about our sun’s 11 year cycle, about sun storms and sunspots, about planets and many other things. It was great to see people so passionate about what they do, the staff and the volunteers. I felt happy for them that they could do what they loved, in one of the best places. Also I’m jealous what they love are such beautiful things – I would love to look at the sky as my day job (I’m sure their jobs are slightly more complicated than that…)
We were not equipped to take any photos of the stars. So here are some beautiful sunset to make it up for you.
After it got darker, the first thing we looked at through the telescope was Saturn. This would be my first experience looking through a telescope. I wasn’t very confident partly because it reminded me of my experiences in school using a microscope, partly because my eyesight was even worse than it was in school. I could never see anything through microscopes. I felt a bit sorry for the volunteer who was helping us to find Saturn. I could completely understand he expected everyone to get really excited for seeing Saturn for the first time. But my reaction was: “what am I looking at? I could only see a blob of light?”
We could just about to see Saturn in the sky with naked eyes. You can see the tiny dot in the picture too.
After taking off and putting on my glasses for about five times, I finally saw something like this:
That’s Saturn! We weren’t able to take pictures. This one I found on the internet is closest to what we saw. What I saw was brighter but less detailed than this picture. Later on into the night, we could even see some of its moons. (image from http://www.corius.net/?page_id=29)
The other thing we saw was our moon. The moon was very bight that day. A lot of stars disappeared in its light. But when we looked at it through a microscope, I was really glad. It was an amazing sight to behold. It was something like this image below, but even bigger and clearer, soaked in a warmer colour. Its outline against the background was not smooth, but a bit like a half frozen snow ball, with crystal fluffs.
Also through a telescope, you can really feel the planets are moving. Whatever you look at, they move out of the sight of the telescope every 30 seconds!
People were free to sit and listen inside, chat, look at the sky on the deck with a cup of coffee or tea in a Kielder Observatory mug. A thick fog landed quietly around us. We went home at about midnight, with the smell of midge spray all over me and little bite marks still on my hand two weeks later.
It was a lovely and peaceful night, especially comparing to the Sunday followed which involved emergency dental appointment and a lot of cotton buds and TCP. We definitely have to go back in autumn to see Milky Way casting shadows on us.
For those who want something straightaway, in the Centre for Life in Newcastle, there’s an upcoming event this Tuesday evening about Black Holes. Gary from Kielder Observatory will be there too.
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” – Psalm 19:1 NIV