Success for the Trecastle Dark Skies event

The pop-up planetarium and planet trail was a real hit at Trecastle Dark Skies event

With four planets in alignment and the Lyrid meteor shower on display – the Trecastle Dark Skies event on April 24th was a real hit for star gazers and astronomers across Wales on Friday evening – despite the cloudy weather.

With support through Brecon Beacons National Park Authority’s Rural Alliances project, the Upper Usk Valley teamed up with Dark Sky Wales to host a free informative star gazing event at Trecastle Community Hall and chapel for locals and visitors to learn more about the sky over ahead. There was a pop-up planetarium, a planet quiz trail and informative talks on the Herschel Family and their huge contribution to astronomy. Such was the anticipation of the event that all the free tickets were booked weeks in advance, even the additional session which was added thanks to the demand.

Sharon Millar, a Dark Skies National Park Ambassador and secretary of the Upper Usk Valley group said “Even though the sky was cloudy, the turnout has been wonderful with adults and children alike learning more about our dark skies. As well as local residents attending visitors from further afield made a dedicated visit to the event.”

The alliance would like to give thanks to all the volunteers who helped make the event a success in particular Eddie Mahoney and his soldiers from Sennybridge camp who turned up early on Thursday morning to assemble the marquee behind Trecastle community hall and also to David and Nathan for laying a floor for the pop up planetarium.

The Upper Usk Valley is both scenically beautiful during the day and during the night. Well known locally for being the perfect location to look up at the stars, it has the ideal combination of being easy to travel to and away from the intrusive glare of light pollution.  This was confirmed recently when the Usk reservoir was declared a Dark Sky discovery site making the Upper Usk Valley officially one of the darkest places in the park with two Dark Skies discovery sites in the area, the second being Crai village.

The Upper Usk Valley Rural Alliance is formed of local volunteers who are dedicated to the promotion of social, economic, cultural and environmental vibrancy within the Upper Usk Valley, an area which encompasses Trecastle, Sennybridge, Defynnog, Crai, Heol Senni, Llandeilo’r Fân and Pentrebach. As well as this event the group have created a series of walking leaflets giving historical information about the villages and will also be holding an event as part of the Agincourt 600 Cymru event. New members are always welcome therefore please keep an eye on the About Us part of this website for future meeting dates and don’t forget to follow the Upper Usk Valley on facebook.

The event has been made possible with funding from the Rural Alliances project which is 50% funded by the ERDF Interreg IVB North West Europe Programme and the Welsh Government’s Targeted Match Fund. The project contributes to a more cohesive EU society as it derives from a co-operation of people from different countries working on common issues that touch the lives of EU citizens. The transnational project involves twelve different partners from Wales, Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.

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Talks in Trecastle Chapel from Andy Burns about The Herschel Family – Trecastle Dark Skies Festival

At our Dark Skies event on 24th April 2015, you can also hear Andy Burns, expert on the Herschel Family, talk about their massive contribution to astronomy. William Frederick Herschel (1738–1822) must be placed in the top ten of anyone’s list of the world’s great astronomers, for two main reasons.

herschel family talks 1
First, about 200 years ago, he almost single-handedly transformed astronomy from the restricted study of our near neighbourhood—the Sun and its attendant family of planets—into a consideration of the much more distant stellar and nebular universe and essentially the cosmos as a whole. Second, he did this by building and using his own telescopes. Needless to say, these were not just any old telescopes. They were a succession of the most optically precise telescopes of the day. These instruments were
much better than the prized instruments of the national observatories such as those at Greenwich and Paris. Herschel thus revealed that some stars that were seen as confused blobs in other instruments were actually double stars, many of which were orbiting their common centre of mass. He also transformed the contemporary view of the sky’s nebulous objects. At the time, many perceived them as mere hindrances to the more important task of discovering new comets. Herschel made them bodies worthy of a lifetime of study—places of possible star formation and even remote galaxies just like ours.

herschel family talks 2And Herschel (because shop-bought telescopes were ‘beyond his purse’), cast the telescope mirrors, ground them and mounted the instruments, all in his kitchen workshop in Bath.
se’), cast the telescope mirrors,
ground them and mounted the instruments, all in his kitchen workshop in Bath.

Dark Skies in Winter

With the iminent return of BBC’s Stargazing Live we thought we’d share some of our own dark meteor showerskies experiences in the Upper Usk Valley, part of Brecon Beacons National Park.

The long nights mean that the planets, stars and moon become visible from early on, within a few hours of darkness, clear skies can produce an amazing show, with many of the more famous constellations at their height during the winter months.

In the Upper Usk Valley, we have the 2 darkest locations within the Brecon Beacons Dark Skies Reserve area, so where better to witness these wonderful overnight shows and to discover more about the dark skies around us, with clear views and very little light pollution.

Not only are the stars in clear view, but December offers a great opportunity to see meteor showers (or shooting stars) with this year’s Geminid Meteor Shower peaking on the 13th & 14th December.

Taking advantage of some clear skies, Carole Gledhill of Madog Fechan Barn, a Brecon Beacons National Park ambassador explains more…..

One of the absolute joys of living in the Upper Usk Valley (UUV) is the lack of light pollution and easy access to sheltered spots from which to observe the night skies. Brecon Beacons National Park recently became only the fifth destination in the world to be granted prestigious International Dark Sky Reserve status and Crai was awarded Dark Sky Discovery Site, Milky Way Class recognition in 2012. You can find out more about the Dark Skies movement at www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk

The Upper Usk Valley is very fortunate to have several Dark Sky Ambassadors residing within its boundaries and many accommodation providers have equipped their properties with telescopes and binoculars. It is hoped to host stargazing events in the UUV in 2014.

What sort of events would you like to see happen?

At certain times of the year the stargazer can look forward to meteor showers and last weekend it was the turn of the spectacular Geminids, named after the Gemini constellation, the direction from which its parent asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, originates. As this asteroid passes close to the Earth, bits of debris will crumble in the upper edges of the atmosphere, vaporising as lights in the sky.

We set ourselves up late at night outside Madog Fechan Barn in Crai, wrapped up warmly and seated on deckchairs, just the right angle for viewing the stars! No need for telescope or binoculars, the meteors were very bright and easy to spot streaking across the sky. We do provide 4 pairs of astronomy quality binoculars for our guests to use, along with insulated mugs and blankets to make the experience more comfortable. Then it was just a matter of turning our backs to the moon and allowing our eyes to become accustomed to the dark and we didn’t have long to wait to enjoy the spectacle of reportedly, 100 and 120 meteors every hour at its peak, although unfortunately a number were obscured by patchy clouds and we weren’t counting anyway!

Did anyone else catch the Geminids this year?

Why not share your experience here?

Having quality dark skies is as much an attraction to residents and tourists as it is a massive boost for tourism operators in the Upper Usk Valley. Do your bit and keep outside lighting to a minimum to help preserve our wonderful dark skies.

Click Here to find our more about the stargazing events in 2014 maybe an ideal time to plan a visit to the Upper Usk Valley and witness these incredible spectacles!

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