Dark Sky Scotland launched by Deputy First Minister

Today (17 January 2007) the Deputy First Minister, Nicol Stephen, MSP, launched Dark Sky Scotland, Scotland's first nationwide programme of public and educational astronomy events. The dark skies of rural Scotland, free from urban light pollution, are among the best in Europe offering stunning views of the stars and planets.

Led by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, Dark Sky Scotland events will take place from February 2007 to Spring 2008. Family events are being organised with the Forestry Commission Scotland - the national forest estate and the Commission's accessible visitor facilities being ideal locations from which to explore the skies. Careers Scotland is coordinating a programme of workshops for teachers to help open the eyes of pupils and parents to the night sky and the wider world of science and technology.

Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen said: "Scotland is a 'science nation' and we spend around 4 million every year on bringing science to the people. I am pleased to be able to support Dark Sky Scotland and hope that it will help grow Scotland's astronomy and space science sector."

The events will be run by a specially trained team of professional and amateur astronomers, students and teachers led by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and the Glasgow Science Centre - which have a wealth of experience in stargazing and planetarium shows.

Dan Hillier, Dark Sky Scotland project leader from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, added "The night sky can be enjoyed from our doorsteps as well as from the huge areas of dark sky in Scotland. There are spectacular things to see with just the naked eye or simple binoculars as well as with telescopes. The Dark Sky Scotland family events will give everyone, from children to grandparents, the chance to get out there to spot the constellations, marvel at the Milky Way or count the craters on the Moon. The highlight of this winter for many will be seeing the beautiful rings of Saturn though a telescope. We will also be showing how Scotland's scientists and engineers are at the forefront of exploring the wonders of the Universe such as the search for Dark Matter and life on other planets.

"These family events will take place all over Scotland. When the Dark Sky Scotland team visits an area, we will also run workshops for teachers, community groups and tourism operators to enable them to run similar activities in the future, so that astronomy becomes a bigger part of life in Scotland."

Bob McIntosh, Director, Forestry Commission Scotland, said; "Forestry Commission Scotland is delighted to be a key partner in Dark Sky Scotland, as part of our programme to celebrate Scotland's Year of Highland Culture. Scotland's national forest estate, owned by Ministers and managed by the Commission, has some of the best light-free locations in the world from which to observe the night sky. We will therefore be hosting a number of different 'stargazing' events across the country throughout the year.

"Forests and woodland are excellent outdoor classrooms to promote environmental awareness and improve our health and well-being. Now, Dark Sky Scotland will provide young and old with an exciting new reason to visit and explore Scotland's diverse national forest estate."

Sandra Lowson, Careers Scotland, explained "Scotland needs a supply of young engineers, scientists and technologists to sustain its economy and for growth in the future. We are supporting the Dark Sky Scotland events as a way of encouraging children and parents to think about these types of careers."

Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland said: "Scotland is home to world-leading astronomical research and technology. It also has many very active local astronomy groups. It is great to see the professionals and amateurs come together to promote the special value of our dark skies and science in general".

Dark Sky Scotland events in February and March 2007 are:

9&10 Feb Kirkton of Durris Hall, Aberdeenshire
23&24 Feb Kirroughtree Visitor Centre, by Newton Stewart, Galloway
16&17 Mar Kilmartin House Museum, Argyll
23&24 Mar Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel, Dornoch

Each event will include family activities and training workshops. Details of each event can be found at www.darkskyscotland.org.uk. Further dates, up to Spring 2008, will be added to this website.


1. The project aims are to:

2. The programme will involve some 35 events, including three main types:

a. Family weekend events will combine stargazing sessions with daytime activities including portably planetarium shows, rocks from space and comet-making demonstrations.
b. Workshops for teachers will show how to run naked-eye observing session for pupils and parents, and how to use robotic telescopes such as the Faulkes Telescope in Hawaii, to take images of deep space objects like galaxies and nebula.
c. Workshops for tourism operators and community groups will show how naked eye observing can become part of community events and the services provided by accommodation operators and tour guides.

3. Partners and funders.

The project has funding to the value of 160,000.

Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre
Led the piloting, development and fundraising. Now managing the project and developing the Dark Sky Scotland Team to run events.

Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS)
10k funding plus in-kind support including organising local events in or near the national forest estate, as part of the FCS "Touchwood" suite of projects to celebrate Scotland's Year of Highland Culture in 2007.

Careers Scotland
25k funding plus in-kind support including organisation of teacher workshops, as part of STEMS, the Science & Technology Matters programme.

Glasgow Science Centre
GSC will play a leading role in delivering the programme.

Institute of Physics Scotland
Its network of teachers and scientists has provided many of the members of the Dark Sky Team.

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
35k funding direct to the project and indirect support through many of the students and scientists involved.

Scottish Executive
47k funding through grants to ROE and GSC from its new Science and Society programme.

Highlands & Island Enterprise
15k funding from its programmes to strengthen communities and skills.

Highland Council's Highland Constellation project
A project that is part of H2007 and which sprang out of the development work for DSS.



Dark Sky Scotland Logo


Map of light pollution in the UK

Map of light pollution in the UK. Credit: CPRE







Stargazing in the forest. Credit: Forestry Commission Scotland


Royal Observatory Edinburgh
Dan Hillier, Dark Sky Scotland Project Leader
0131 668 8406
07821 800356
Eleanor Gilchrist, PR Officer
0131 668 8397

Forestry Commission Scotland
Kenny Murray
07831 801624
Diana McGowan, Press Officer
07785 527590

Careers Scotland
Sandra Lowson, National STEM Coordinator
07747 564316

Glasgow Science Centre
Claire Gemson, Press Officer
07810 543728

Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland
Office of the Deputy First Minister
Stuart Lewis
07796 335881

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh comprises the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) of the University of Edinburgh and the ROE Visitor Centre. The Royal Observatory Visitor Centre is open throughout the year for pre-booked group visits and special events. The Visitor Centre can be contacted on 0131 668.