A new campaign promoting Dark Sky tourism to the region has been launched. South West Scotland offers visitors the chance to see the night sky better than they ever have before. With some of the lowest levels of light pollution in the UK, South West Scotland is the perfect place to stargaze.
The region is of course home to Galloway International Dark Sky Park, the first of its kind in the UK, and to the internationally recognised Dark Sky Community at Moffat both of which celebrate our spectacular night skies.
In most towns and cities you can only see about 100 stars with the naked eye, but from the Galloway Dark Sky Park, over 7,000 stars and planets are visible, and the bright band of the Milky Way is usually easy to see arching across the sky.
You don’t have to be an expert in astronomy either. Dumfries and Galloway has dark sky guides and we have observatories where you can learn about and experience the night sky. Or you can just come and enjoy the spectacular night skies for yourselves.
Where to go Stargazing
South West Scotland has some of the lowest levels of light pollution in the UK so it’s an ideal place for stargazing. You can of course visit Galloway International Dark Sky Park, picked out by the BBC’s Sky at Night as the flagship area for Scottish Dark Skies, in its list of best places to stargaze in Scotland.
The region is also home to our IDA International Dark Sky Community at Moffat. The town has its own observatory and specially adapted street lighting which helps preserve the night sky, but across the region most places outside of urban centres are great for stargazing.
Do try to get as far away from street lights, traffic, other sources of artificial light as possible. If there are lights try to turn your back to them.
When to go Stargazing
Ideally you are looking for the magic three ingredients when you go stargazing.
Clear Skies. The best time to go stargazing is when skies are clear.
New Moon. Ideally try to avoid the full moon as the brightness of the moonlight means you will be able to see fewer stars.
Avoid Twilight. It’s also best to go after evening twilight or before morning twilight. This means in mid Summer there is almost no hours of complete darkness.
Check twilight hours and moon phases for Scotland here.
What to bring Stargazing
Wrap up warm. It can be cold stargazing outside in Scotland even in Summer. So stay warm with lots of layers, a hat, gloves and thermals. It’s easier to take them off if you’re too warm than add if you’re cold.
Bring a torch. Ideally use a red torch to help keep your night vision. Adapt a white torch by covering with a red sweet wrapper or brown paper. Your eyes take 10 or 20 minutes to adapt to dark. Don’t look at any lights, screens it will spoil your night vision.
Bring additional equipment. You might want to bring e.g. a star map, a pair of binoculars or even a telescope. Or bring luxuries e.g. a flask of hot chocolate, a warm blanket, a reclining deckchair!
What you’ll see Stargazing
When you go stargazing in South West Scotland, you will see different things depending on what time of year it is. Of course the biggest factor is the weather, but assuming you get clear skies, here are some of the things you might expect to see.
The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in is made up of billions of stars and looks like a wispy cloud running across the night sky. It is visible throughout the year but appears in different positions in the night sky. To see it arching across the sky as it is often pictured, it’s best to visit in Autumn.
Stars and Constellations. On a clear night in a dark sky location like the Galloway Dark Sky Park, up to 7,000 stars are visible to the naked eye compared to only 100 visible from most towns and cities. If you are lucky you might even get to see a shooting star! Constellations are simply names for groups of stars which make up patterns and shapes in the night sky. Perhaps the most well known is The Plough. This is a useful one to orient yourself, as the two ‘pointer stars’ at the end of The Plough point to the faint North Star. You might also look out for Cassiopeia, Orion’s Belt, Gemini and Leo.
Here’s a guide from the Galloway Dark Skies Park that you can print off to take with you and help you identify them.
This work has been funded by the Destination & Sector Marketing Fund as part of a wider Scottish Government support package linked to the Tourism Task Force Recovery plan, delivered by VisitScotland.
Article by Eileen Rainsberry, Project Manager Visit South West Scotland, March 2022