Home to 26 Registered Dark Sky Discovery Sites, the Isle of Man is proud to be one of the finest destinations in the British Isles to marvel at the stars. The Island’s low light pollution makes its skies some of the purest in Britain, allowing astronomers from amateur to expert to observe the planets and stars.
What are Dark Sky Discovery Sites?
They are places that:
- Are away from the worst of local light pollution
- Provide good sightlines of the sky
- Have good public access, including firm ground for wheelchairs. The sites are generally freely accessible at all times
What do I need to know before I go stargazing?
Due to the dark nights, late autumn, winter and early spring offer the best time to stargaze. These seasons are collectively referred to as the ‘observing season’ (October to March). However, don’t feel discouraged if you’re thinking of visiting during the summer months. There are still some great sights to be seen, you’ll just have to stay up a little later!
all you really need is yourself and a clear night sky, however you can enhance
your experience with a bit of forward planning and preparation. Remember, you
will be outside and it can get chilly, so dress appropriately and prepare for
Did you know that cooler evenings provide a better view of the night sky? This is because there is less moisture in the atmosphere.
What should I bring?
Items you might like to take with you are:
- Star Charts
- Appropriate clothing
- Snacks and refreshments
- A compass
- A red torch (to protect eyes that are adjusted to the dark)
There are also a number of stargazing apps available which can help you identify and provide a better understanding of the celestial sights.
Where should I go?
Once you’ve planned where to go and prepped what you might need, you’ll be ready to head out and marvel at the stars. Here are five spots to give you some starry inspiration of places to visit.
1. Port Soderick
Sitting on the Island’s east coast, this small hamlet offers crisp views of the night sky. Port Soderick’s upper car park provides a great vantage point for spectators. On clear, crisp evenings you’ll be in with a chance of seeing spectacular unobstructed views of the Milky Way with the naked eye.
This majestic little bay, situated on the west coast of the Island, delivers first class, uninterrupted North-to-South views of the luminous sky on a clear night. As you settle down and sip a warming hot chocolate, search for distant planets, shooting stars and the Great Andromada Galaxy.
Located on the southern tip of the Isle of Man, Cregneash Village provides good sky views in all directions. The rural location means you can admire the stars and experience breathtaking sites on a cloud-free evening. During the day in the summer months, Cregneash operates as a living illustration of a farming and crofting community in the 19th and early 20th century. Almost perfectly preserved, you’ll find plough horses, Loaghtan sheep, shorthorn cows, pigs and Manx Cats.
Looking towards the south in the winter months, you’ll be able to see well-known and fairly easy-to-spot constellations including Taurus, Aries, Pegasus, Perseus and Cassiopeia.
4. Snaefell Mountain
The summit of the Isle of Man’s only mountain offers a breathtaking 360 degree viewpoint for any stargazing enthusiast. Enjoy a brisk walk from the Mountain Road to the summit on a clear night to experience sights out of this world. If you don’t fancy the uphill stomp, pull into one of the car parks along the Mountain Road, popular spots include ‘Windy Corner’, ‘The Bungalow’, ‘The Veranda’, ‘Guthries’ and ‘Tower Bends’. If you’re looking for something in particular, be sure to check the location you choose is facing the right direction.
For something a little different, the Isle of Man Astronomical Society and Manx Electric Railway (MER) host a number of ‘Pie in the Sky’ events each year. After a leisurely ride on the MER to the top of the Mountain, guests are treated to an evening meal in the restaurant and, on a clear night, a spectacular view of the skies.
5. Smeale Beach
Smeale Coastal Area is one of the Island’s darkest sites with near-to-no light pollution. A fantastic area to gaze at the night sky, Smeale has an uninterrupted horizon that allows stargazers to admire the stars, and when conditions are right, catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Before you go…
Before you head out on your night time adventure, here are a few final points to consider:
- Check an Astronomical or Dark Sky calendar to identify the best days and times to go stargazing (there’s lots of apps available to help)
- Be aware that natural moonlight washes out the stars, so it’s worth bearing in mind that you might not see as much during a full moon
- It’s advised that the best time to experience a truly starry sky is the days before, during and just after each new moon
- Consider the weather conditions and be flexible around cloudy evenings
If you need some more tips on the wonders of the night sky, the Isle of Man Astronomical Society hosts informal meetings on the first Thursday of every month in addition to several events throughout the year. Manx Life, a free local publication, also features a monthly article dedicated to the Manx night sky and is an ideal resource if you’re looking for advice on what to look out for.
The Isle of Man is spoilt for choice when it comes to marvelling at the stars. So wrap up warm, and head outdoors for a cosy night under the Island’s dark skies.
Sailing with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company at night also provides a fantastic opportunity to see celestial sights. Stretch your legs on the outside deck, admire the night sky and enjoy the sea breeze before you arrive at your destination.