A County Tyrone based forest park has become the second internationally recognised dark sky park on the island of Ireland.
Davagh Forest Park was announced as Northern Ireland’s first internationally recognised dark sky park in early September. It is now one of only 85 places around the world awarded the title of IDA International Dark Sky Park.
Some of the darkest skies in the world are located at the base of the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone. This area is renowned for its light pollution-free skies, which make for the perfect place to see the stars.
The title was awarded to Davagh Forest Park following years of careful monitoring and observation. It found that Davagh had skies some 30 to 40 times darker than the cities of Dublin or Belfast.
“At Davagh, a natural cauldron in an ancient landscape, the skies are at their darkest, and you can experience unrivalled and wondrous views of the night sky, which makes it perfect for stargazing,” said Cathal Mallaghan, Chair of the Mid Ulster District Council, and one of the vital forces in helping Davagh achieve this accreditation.
Ireland’s newest stargazing experience – perfect for the curious mind
The award could not come at a better time, as the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory at Davagh is due to open later this month on 17 October.
Costing £1.2 million (€1.31 million), this new exhibition allows visitors to admire constellations and planets.
“This project will appeal to the curious mind and those who want to explore what lies beyond the stars and what the eye can see,” said Mr Edwin Poots, Rural Affairs Minister in Northern Ireland.
The funding has allowed for an interactive experience, where visitors can explore our solar system. Touch screens, binoculars, and mini-telescopes are among the facilities on offer at Ireland’s newest stargazing experience.
The exhibition is home to a retractable roof that houses a 14-inch LX6000 Meade telescope. This piece of equipment will be used at some stargazing events and VIP tours to allow patrons to get a more in-depth look at the sky above.
What to expect – guided tours, VR experiences, and more
OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory have daily guided tours that are due to start later this month. The guided tours connect the natural County Tyrone landscape with the astronomical and archaeological heritage through an interactive exhibition.
VR headsets allow for patrons to experience space and the night sky through virtual reality. Experiences include watching the birth of a star, the dancing Aurora Borealis, or wandering about the moon.
As well as a guided exhibition tour, there are night-time experiences for those happy to dress warm and sit beneath the stars.
OM Odyssey is an outdoor film screening, which “speeds the audience from urban lights into the vastness of the universe or swoops them through an ancient forest under the fast-flowing Broughderg River before they soar into the sky.”
The OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory promises to be a completely immersive experience for all. Tickets for the OM Dark Park and Observatory can be bought here.