Dark Sky Discovery Sites announced in Scotland

The first Dark Sky Discovery Sites have been unveiled to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

The Dark Sky Scotland partnership has announced that the two sites are Newbattle Abbey College and the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre grounds, near Fort William.

The sites were chosen following a winter of community astronomy activities led by the John Muir Trust, the Highland Council Countryside Rangers and the Forestry Commission Scotland.

Both sites are relatively free of light pollution, tall buildings and are safe and accessible for visitors.

Dan Hillier, from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, which leads the Dark Sky Scotland partnership, said in a statement: "Many of us live in light polluted towns and cities yet in every community there is somewhere that is the best local place to go to look up and discover the stars.

"From these places, which might be a park or playing field, you can see planets, hundreds of stars, space satellites and other wonders of the night sky. The organisations that have identified these first two Dark Sky Discovery Sites have taken a world leading role in helping people to discover the universe that is on their doorsteps."

Depute Principal at Newbattle Abbey College Norah Fitzcharles said: "Newbattle Abbey College is delighted to be designated as a Dark Sky Discovery Site. We hope that this will encourage students, staff and members of local community groups who live in an urban environment, to discover the night sky."

Alison Austin, Nevis conservation officer for the John Muir Trust, said: "Many people visit Glen Nevis from developed areas with lots of light pollution and are often amazed to see shooting stars, the Milky Way and entire constellations at night in Scotland's wilder places.

"It is great that Dark Skies Discovery Sites can highlight places like this and help people discover the night sky."

The programme was funded by the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Government and the Institute for Physics Scotland.

Catriona Morrison, communities and greenspaces officer for SNH, said: "This might, at first sight, seem to be an odd thing for SNH to fund but it isn't. We are very keen to encourage people in urban areas to get out and enjoy the green spaces where they live. Looking up into the night sky and wondering at the beauty of the stars is one way of doing this and the night sky itself is an often forgotten part of our heritage."

More Dark Sky Discovery Sites are to be indentified during 2009 by partners of the programme - the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre, Glasgow Science Centre, the Institute for Physics Scotland, Careers Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland.