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By the time you read this I'll be north of you, at another Kielder Starcamp. Yes, it's that time of year again, when we leave the trappings of civilisation and the ever- worsening light pollution of Kendal and Cumbria behind to go camping in a forest clearing up near the Scottish border, in the middle of the back of beyond, in the hope of seeing some stars. Ridiculous how quickly they come around again...


Will we see any stars? Ah, that's the question and as I don't have a crystal ball and I don't have a TARDIS either, I can't predict the future or travel into it to answer that question. However, as we're away for almost two weeks this time, attending two separate Starcamps, one for absolute beginners and the other for more experienced sky-watchers - we're optimistic we'll see stars on at least a few nights. We usually do; we've only had one Kielder trip when we've had cloudy skies every single night, so yes, I'm sure we'll see something. But you never know.


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Why go all that way when there's a chance of seeing nothing? Because if the ancient Northumbrian weather gods smile on us, we will emerge from our trusty folding camper and look up at a dark sky strewn with stars, glinting and twinkling like gemstones and jewels sprayed across the heavens. Up there, although it's nor perfectly dark by any means - nowhere in the UK is, no matter what people who live in and promote them for astronomy say - the bright lights of Newcastle and other towns and villages are sufficiently far enough away from Kielder that there is much less light pollution there than at most other places in the UK. When the sky is clear and there's no Moon, the Kielder night sky is so dark and the stars so crisp and clear and colourful that it's like looking at a totally different sky. In


LETTER FROM THE


SOUTH...


fact, so many faint stars are visible that people who live in even modestly light polluted areas often get a bit disoriented and have trouble locating familiar constellations because suddenly they're not so obvious anymore, not with thousands of salt grain stars twinkling around the bright stars they usually see from their gardens.


If the sky is clear, I'll be taking lots of photographs and teaching others how to take night sky photographs too, with outdoor ‘astrophotography workshops’ on the clear nights and a special talk on the Saturday afternoon. If I get any time to myself I'll be taking photographs of a comet called ‘ASSASN’ (yes, we are all calling it ‘Assassin’...!) and imaging the beautiful Milky Way too, which, from somewhere as dark as Kielder, looks like it has been airbrushed across the sky by some spray can-wielding celestial Banksy.


And if it's cloudy? Well, this will be our first camping trip with our new cat, Jess, so I'm sure she'll keep us busy, finding her paws inside the camper and getting into all sorts of mischief, which she sees to have a real talent for (pictures below!). When the rain begins to slam down and sweep across the campsite in great shimmering, silvery waves, as it inevitably will, we'll all huddle together under quilts and wait until the wind stops howling, the rain stops slashing and then emerge into the silent darkness, look up and whisper breathlessly what astronaut Dave Bowman said in ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’...


"My God, it's full of stars..." Stuart Atkinson


Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal


http://cumbriansky.wordpress.com


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