Matthew, Dark Sky Ranger

Dark Skies
Dark Skies Tours, learning about and exploring the solar system, our galaxy and beyond, using the naked eye, binoculars and story telling, myths and legends
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About Matthew, Dark Sky Ranger

For as long as mankind has lived on Earth, we have looked up at the night sky and wondered. Then we started lighting up the night and the stars faded from view. There are still places where it gets dark at night, though, where light pollution is low, and Dumfries and Galloway is one such place, with the UK's first Dark Skies Park at its heart. You can see the best of this by joining Matthew, Dark Skies Ranger for an experience with the Wow Factor!

For the most popular tour (2-2.5 hours), we meet Matthew just before sunset, which means we can watch the sun do down and the first stars come out. During the twilight, we go for a short walk to connect with the landscape and the history of the area, then build a scale model of the solar system and learn some facts and figures which help us to begin the journey into the sky above. We then move to our main viewing point, where the astro-binoculars are set up on a tripod and we can watch as the last sunlight leaves the sky. Bright stars and planets are first to come into view and our own, Milky Way Galaxy gradually becomes clearer. The International Space Station might put in an appearance but there are always satellites to spot.

Using the binoculars and our eyes, we go on a tour of the solar system, our galaxy and even to another galaxy. There are times when meteor showers are forecast but it is a rare night when we don't see a few shooting stars. We might even see the Northern Lights, if the Sun has been busy. We learn how to navigate by the stars and everything we discover has a story to tell, either facts and figures, myths and legends, or some special connection with humanity. Throughout the night, Matthew will offer to take pictures for you to keep as mementoes of your adventure.

For those who like to walk and want to experience the forest at night, we meet before sunset and set off into the forest, following a track and, as the light fades, getting our night vision. The darkness is increased by the cover of the trees and the stars can be glimpsed shining through. We may encounter wildlife, such as badgers, foxes, deer or see the ghostly sight of Barn Owls swooping silently through the trees. We will then stop at a viewing point where the binoculars are set up and spend some time star gazing, before walking back through the forest.

We can also go out for later night or early morning tours, especially when there are exciting, celestial events forecast, such as Meteor Showers, Lunar Eclipses or the Northern Lights. They offer the same opportunity to explore the night sky, with the added attraction of seeing something rarer and even more spectacular.

Whether it is seeing the moons of Jupiter, the Milky Way or a Shooting Star for the first time, the most common expression people use is "Wow"! The comments left by participants of a recent tour give a glimpse of what the experience is like: "Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm with us on Sunday night. We were completely blown away by everything we saw - it was truly awe-inspiring! We really didn’t expect to be able to see so much so it was a really amazing experience."

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