A LEADING astronomer has opened a new visitor facility to further cement the North York Moors National Park as one of the best stargazing locations in the UK.

The park, which already has International Dark Sky Reserve status, welcomed Astrophysicist Professor Carole Haswell from Saltburn, Head of Astronomy at the Open University, to unveil the new Star and Nature hub at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre.

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The wooden-clad hub, located in a clearing just metres from the main car park and National Park Centre, will serve a dual purpose.

It is a prime spot for studying the spectacular night skies above Sutton Bank and a focal point for visitors during the day to find out more about the natural world in the local surroundings.

Outside the hub, a bird sound station will help visitors identify the different songs and choruses that resound in the sky while a rotating dark skies panel will show how the astronomic sightings change throughout the year.

To protect the pristine night sky, the building’s exterior lighting comprises special red downlights to cut out any glare that would otherwise blight the visitors’ ability to view the celestial show above them.

The Northern Echo:

Professor Haswell, who says she first became inspired by space after seeing the dark skies above her hometown of Saltburn, said: “Facilities like the hub are fantastic as they provide a comfortable environment for visitors so they can really concentrate on absorbing their surroundings and make the most of enjoying the wonders of the universe above them.”

Chris Pye, Sutton Bank National Park Centre Manager added: “Sutton Bank has always been a popular destination attracting around 130,000 visitors a year, but it has now also become one of our foremost locations for dark sky activities thanks to the escarpment’s wide open horizon onto unpolluted skies.

“This, coupled with people’s keenness to understand more about the wildlife they’re noticing as they visit Sutton Bank, meant that it made sense to invest in a facility specifically built with nature and dark skies in mind.

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“The hub is about celebrating and providing a real sense of the importance of the natural wonders around us as well as demystifying the cosmic sightings in the sky.”

The hub will complement existing stargazing facilities across the North York Moors National Park, which include observatories at Dalby Forest and Whitby as well as the many Dark Skies Friendly businesses – from walking guides to bed and breakfasts - that provide visitors with the equipment and on-hand expertise to make the most of the stars above.

In December 2020, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks both became International Dark Skies Reserves, representing one of the largest areas in Europe to be simultaneously designated.

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