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South Downs stargazing festival

Find an event near you for a spot of guided stargazing or a family-friendly workshop over the 2019 Dark Skies Festival

Wrap up warm and head for the hills for the Dark Skies Festival – the annual celebration of the South Downs being designated a dark sky site. Between Fri 15 Feb and Sun 3 March 2019 there are several guided stargazing events and tie-in activities in Sussex, many free or low cost and most family-friendly.

Some events will be weather dependent so do check before you go, especially if it’s cloudy. Some will need to be booked ahead. Here are the key goings on in Sussex. If you live near Hampshire do check out the festival website for more events over the border.

Bury SCE school is hosting a free stargazing evening for all on Fri 15 Feb with Worthing Astronomers providing the telescopes and folks from Bignor Roman Villa talking about the stars’ relevance to our ancestors.

Discover all about the dark skies – and their creatures, at Bodiam Castle with star-gazing and bat talks on Sat 16 (£15).

Herstmonceux’s Observatory Science Centre has an open evening on Sat 16 Feb giving you the chance to look at the moon through some of the country’s biggest telescopes (normal entrance fee applies). STEM ambassadors will have smaller telescopes on the lawn and answers at the ready for your questions. There’s also an extended opening on 22 Feb and another open evening on 2 March.

Catch an afternoon show at South Down’s Planetarium in Chichester over half term. On Sat 16, Mon 18 and Fri 22 it’s Stars on Frosty Winters Nights, while on Wed 20 you can see Distant Worlds: Alien Life and Wintertime Stars, Moon and Planets  (£7 adults, £5 children).

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landings is the free family-focused Stargazing South Downs Roadshow. Activities include indoor planetarium shows; a virtual reality experience of the night skies; talks on the moon, the stars and nocturnal wildlife; science experiments; moongazing (if skies are clear) and (for £5) an astrophotography session. It’s at Midhurst Rother College on Sat 16; The Festival Hall, Petersfield on Mon 18 Feb and The Town Hall Lewes on Wed 20 Feb.

See the full moon from Petworth Park on Tues 19 in a session guided by enthusiastic astronomist John Mason from the South Downs Planetarium (£4).

On the coast, on Tues 19, join a Star Party beside the i360 on Brighton seafront for a free spot of moongazing with expert astronomers.

Find out more about what life is like on the International Space Station at the free Space Explorers day at Chichester’s Novium Museum on Wed 20 Feb. Learn about working in zero gravity, discover where astronauts get their water from and, surely, how they go to the loo…

At Slindon College near Arundel on Thurs 21 Feb pick out Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades and more with the help of astronomers from the South Downs Planetarium in a free event.

Something a bit different on Thurs 21 Feb and Sat 2 March – adults get a chance to create shadow puppets inspired by the night sky from natural and recycled materials at a workshop in Ilford village. (£9.12).

Join a stargazing night hike from National Trust’s Woolbeding Countryside to Beacon Hill on Mon 25 Feb. (£5 adults, £3 children, including a hot drink, booking essential).

Join the free star party at Goodwood on Tues 26 Feb and get a look through powerful telescopes brought by astronomers from the South Downs Planetarium and the South Downs National Park Authority. There’s a similar event just over the border in Petersfield on Thurs 28 Feb.

Creatures of the night are the theme at WWT Arundel on its family Dark Skies Days on Sat 2 and Sun 3 March. Make pine cone owls and dissect owl pellets, join walks and talks about bats and owls, and make a bat box to take home. (Bat box £10 extra, pre booking essential).


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