Asteroid honour as Dark Sky Scotland programme gears up for Moonwatch week

The international astronomy community has this month honoured the Dark Sky Scotland public astronomy project by naming an asteroid after it.

Asteroid (21073) Darksky was first spotted in 1991 by Robert McNaught, a Scot based in Australia, using the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia. The asteroid is about 4km across and about 2 ½ times further from the Sun than the Earth is. The idea to name it ‘Darksky’ came from Edinburgh astronomer Dr John Davies. He commented: “I think Dark Sky Scotland is a great way to open up astronomy to everyone, and thought this would be a fitting way to recognise its achievements. Rob McNaught agreed and proposed the name to the minor planet naming committee who accepted the suggestion”

The Dark Sky Scotland project, which was launched in 2007, is the world’s first nationwide programme of public astronomy events. It takes astronomy activities for families and community groups to rural and urban locations throughout Scotland. The activities are funded by the Scottish Government and the Royal Astronomical Society, and the programme is led by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

This winter’s Dark Sky Scotland season is about to kick off with a series of events to mark Autumn Moonwatch week. In the week from 24 October 2009, astronomy organisations across the UK will be giving members of the public the chance to look at the Moon through a telescope for the first time. Dark Sky Scotland will be leading the following events:

Saturday 24 October - Gordonstoun School, Elgin, 2pm - 4.30pm for family friendly workshops and 7pm - 9.30pm for night-sky observing.

Wednesday 28 October – Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh 6pm – 9.30pm
Starlab Planetarium, 'We Are Astronomers' film, meteorite handling, comet making, rocket making, magic planet, night sky observing.
Booking essential: 0131 550 7800,

Friday 30th October – Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre - 7pm - 9pm
Telescope dome tour, meteorite handling, night-sky observing.
Booking essential: 0131 668 8404,

Saturday 31 October – National Museum of Scotland, Connect Gallery 10am - 4pm
Drop-in family activities throughout the day including meteorite handling, rocket making, moon observing tips.
No booking required.

Saturday 31 October – Calton Hill Observatory 5pm - 7pm or 7:30pm - 10pm Infrared camera, meteorite handling, comet making, constellation crafts, night-sky observing.
Booking essential: 0131 529 3963.

Looking at the Moon through even a simple pair of binoculars is spectacular. You can see details of the Moon’s landscape including dark flat plains of ancient lava, paler mountainous regions and craters.

Rob McNaught and John Davies both have asteroids named after them: (3173) McNaught and (9064) Johndavies.

UK Schmidt Telescope image of asteroid (21073) Darksky. The asteroid can be seen as a streak across the centre of the image because it moved relative to the Earth during the hour long exposure.


Moonwatch week runs 24 October – 1 November. Credit: IYA 2009.




For more information about the Dark Sky Scotland Project visit:
For more information about International Year of Astronomy and Moonwatch week visit:
For more information on observing the moon visit:


John Davies
Project Scientist
UK Astronomy Technology Centre
0131 668 8348
07718 737169

Dave Chalton
Dark Sky Project Officer
Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre
0131 668 8343

Tania Johnston
Education Officer
Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre
0131 668 8263