It was dark. A cold
wind whipped the last of the leaves from the trees. With a torch beam to light
our way, my guide led me down a curving gravel path to a shed at the bottom of
his garden. Once inside, we hardly heard a sound.
This garden shed is no ordinary
storage space for bikes or tools. With a pull on an outside rope the whole roof
slides open to reveal innumerable pinpoints of light glistening in the night
My guide, Mike Alexander has studied
the stars since 1969 when his early interest was sparked by blurry black and
white pictures of the moon landing shown on televisions across the world. A book
on astronomy at Christmas 1971 led to further study and a desire to keep
‘I just had to find
out about the stars, the planets and whatever else is up there,’ said Mike.
the Galloway Astronomy Centre, run jointly by Mike and his wife Helen, attracts
visitors who also want to know more about what is up there. Their cottage can
accommodate a small number of paying guests usually on a Bed and Breakfast
basis though some guests prefer to arrive in time for dinner as well. ‘We
organise everything around our guests’ needs,’’ said Mike.
we have a group of absolute beginners who may not be able to recognise the
shape of The Plough in the sky, I’ll happily start there, very slowly. ‘Then I’ll
explain the origin of constellations such as Leo the Lion or Aquarius the Water
Carrier which are groups of stars that appear as tiny bright dots in the sky alongside
umpteen other tiny bright dots. The constellations don’t readily make shapes
looking anything like the descriptive names given them by the ancient Greeks so
they can be difficult to pick out.
using the Centre’s telescopes, I can point out other wonders of the night sky such
as planets, the craters of the moon, ring of Saturn, or the moons of Jupiter.
further into space our stargazers might be able to see the distant clouds of
gas where new stars, perhaps one thousand light years away, are forming at this
‘We may even be
able to pick out other galaxies that are several million light years away!’’
points out that the Galloway Astronomy Centre is unique in Scotland. ‘I don’t
just leave our guests to play with a telescope. I’m there with them in the
observatory, guiding them across the night sky.’
a teacher pointing at a blackboard, Mike uses a laser pen to shine a beam that
appears long enough to pick out individual stars. From them he can then trace
the shapes of constellations.
readily acknowledges that people who may be interested in observing the night
sky often assume they’ll need expensive equipment and especially a large
telescope to get started. But that’s not the case.
of all, prospective stargazers need to get to a place where it’s dark enough to
actually see the stars. Then with the naked eye they’ll be able to see millions
of heavenly bodies and a few passing satellites. A pair of relatively
inexpensive 10x50 or 7x50 binoculars will help even more, along with a good
so long ago, our ancestors would have been aware of the night time sky. Today it’s
good to know there are still places where we can be amazed by this nightly
Sky ParkGalloway Forest
Park lies a few miles north of the Galloway Astronomy Centre. A number of
measurements have been taken there, in different parts of the park, to assess
the light pollution, or more accurately, the lack of light pollution.
prove that certain areas of the park are especially dark and are particularly
good for observing the night sky.It’s
worth noting that only a few sites in the world have been given this dark sky grading.As
the population of Galloway is small, with most people living in a few largish
towns and lots of small villages there’s not overly much light created. So it’s
reasonably easy to find areas where the sky is dark. These parts of Galloway
are also fairly accessible, unlike other parts of the world where people have
to travel a distance to get away from the light sent upwards from buildings,
city streets or shop fronts.
For further information:
The Galloway Astronomy Centre