A POPULAR annual festival that brings the wonders of the night sky to life is going virtual this year.

The Dark Skies Festival normally runs a series of events throughout Yorkshire Dales and Moors National Parks aimed at educating and inspiring people to take more of an interest in the night sky.

With lockdown hampering people’s ability to travel for the popular annual festival, the National Parks, which were both awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in December, have turned to the power of webinars and zoom meet-ups for a virtual event.

Among the stellar line-up of speakers during the half term event - from February12 to 28 - will be scientists sharing the latest cosmic discoveries and upcoming developments in space including the landing of NASA’s spacecraft on Mars on February 18.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Milky Way Ravenscar North York Moors Picture: Steve BellMilky Way Ravenscar North York Moors Picture: Steve Bell

Astronomers will take viewers on stargazing and moon-watching safaris before encouraging people to step outside their front doors and look up for their own DIY tour of the night sky.

As the full moon appears in the second week of the virtual festival, experts are planning a live MoonWatch.

This will feature an informal question and answer session for those keen to understand more about the lunar landscape they are seeing.

On other evenings people will be able to watch wildlife and conservation experts as they share why it is so important to conserve the night skies and prevent the spread of light pollution, particularly to protect wildlife species such as moths and hedgehogs.

Helen Dalton, tourism officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park said: “We first introduced a small virtual programme of events during last October’s fringe festival and had a considerable audience so we’re confident that a similar format on a larger scale this February will be even more popular particularly as it will help fire people’s imaginations to go outside and view the skies above where they live.”

Other highlights of the programme include photographers sharing top tips on taking great astro images, along with plenty of early evening sessions aimed at capturing youngsters’ imaginations.

Both National Parks will also share footage of their pristine dark skies.

Emily Watson, visitor development and marketing assistant at the North York Moors National Park added: “There is something very special about spending time under our night skies which are so pristine more than 2,000 stars can be seen in one go and where a walk or run becomes a thrilling adventure when you venture out into a beautiful landscape after twilight.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The night sky at the Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture: ANDY WARDThe night sky at the Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture: ANDY WARD

“This is why we’re keen to use the virtual festival to help open people’s eyes to the possibilities of experiencing something so awe-inspiring both on their own doorstep and once lockdown restrictions are eased and we can welcome visitors again.”

The festival programme has been created by both National Parks together with Go Stargazing.

The programme will be a mix of free and paid-for events, visit darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk