Space experts will join amateur astronomers, artists, photographers and activity providers to bring 17 days’ of insight and entertainment during this year’s Dark Skies Festival (15 February-3 March) organised jointly by the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities.

The packed programme includes a plethora of new events across both National Parks and both the Nidderdale and Howardian Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Many will be themed around the moon to celebrate 50 years’ since the first lunar landing and because the first week of the Festival coincides with a full moon phase.

The National Park authorities are over the moon that Prof O’Brien, who makes regular appearances on BBC Radio Five Live and Breakfast TV, will begin the festival by shedding light on some of the greatest cosmic curiosities to an audience in the stately home surroundings of Castle Howard.

Meanwhile at Whitby Museum one of the world’s leading experts on dark matter, Henrique Araujo, Professor of Physics at Imperial College will be delivering a special lecture entitled: The Search for Dark Matter.

For those keen to eye the skies astronomers will take visitors on star and moon gazing safaris with new events at Newlands Farm near Cloughton, Cober Hill and Ryedale Folk Museum over in the North York Moors, Simonstone Hall in the Yorkshire Dales and Brymor Ice Cream at Jervaulx in Nidderdale.

Activity enthusiasts can embrace the dark in numerous different ways including moonlit canoeing  or off-road cycling at Scar House Reservoir in Nidderdale or competing in a new super moon mountain bike ride in Swaledale with a five-mile route for younger cyclists or a 20-mile distance for lunar lunatics.

There are a range of new nocturnal guided walks including evenings at Grimwith Reservoir in the Dales, and Lastingham, Chop Gate and Sutton Bank in the North York Moors; or for true adrenaline junkies there’s the twilight zip wire experience at Go Ape in Dalby Forest.

Budding photographers can hone those night-time skills with sessions at West Burton where they can learn how to photograph waterfalls after-dark, or see how to capture the stars at Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale and Castle Howard in the Howardian Hills.

Youngsters are also well-catered for with a host of events where they can make rockets, craft planets out of pom-poms, make pizza at planet parties, be part of a woodland lantern procession or get back to nature at a moon-themed Forest School evening at Semerwater in the Yorkshire Dales.

Local restaurants, cafés and food producers are also planning a stellar line-up of themed menus and specials, with everything from a new gin through to dark skies ice cream and chocolates.

Each National Park has three Dark Sky Discovery locations where skies are sufficiently dark to potentially view the Milky Way with the naked eye. The North York Moors sites are at The Moors National Park Centre at Danby, Sutton Bank and Dalby Forest.

The Yorkshire Dales Dark Sky Discovery locations are at Hawes, Malham and Buckden.

Programme information and booking details can be found on www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk. A number of events will be free while others will have a small charge attached.

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