Astronomy is the study of celestial bodies, space, and the physical universe we live in, and for countless centuries, man has gazed up at the stars. From our earliest ancestors to our current scientific minds, we all share the same curiosity and awe for our universe.
In Kent, there is a rich history of astronomers who have made huge impacts in the field and have changed our perception of space as a whole. One such example is William Coleman (1824-1911), who erected a private observatory at his home in Buckland, Kent. This observatory contained an 8-inch Cooke refractor that was capable of observing double stars. This observatory would later be used by Rev T.E.R Phillips, who would later in his life be involved in the discovery and study of cataclysmic variable stars, helping astronomers to better understand their behavior and solidifying past interpretations of these celestial bodies.
In the modern day, it is not hard to follow in their legacy, and many all over the world have chosen to take part in stargazing and amateur astronomy. Some mobile phones are able to achieve very high-resolution images of the Milky Way and are very quickly becoming a viable option for astrophotography. This is great for people who have a genuine interest in the area but can’t splash out for a £400 camera. For more traditional means of stargazing, telescopes are an extremely valuable tool, and companies such as Celestron provide a large range of accessories included with your purchase and can achieve extremely high-resolution images for a relatively low cost.
The issue with light pollution However, there is an overbearing problem that stands between avid stargazers and this wonderful hobby, especially in urban and suburban Kent and London: light pollution. Light pollution refers to excessive or misdirected artificial light and is usually emitted from buildings, street lights, industrial lighting, and street signs. These create a brightened sky background which can and does obscure a person’s ability to observe the night sky. As well as this, it can negatively affect the animals, plants, and furthermore, is a waste of energy. The Acorn industrial area is over 400,000 square feet and is one of the largest light polluters in Kent.
It is essential to raise awareness and advocate for the reduction of light pollution. By doing this, we can enable the preservation of our night skies and their beauty for future generations to come. There are many ways residents in the South East can help in this cause by speaking to your local authority/council or a more active option is to take part in the annual International Dark Sky Week from April 2 – April 8 (2024), which includes stargazing events, art exhibits, and community outreach. Jennifer Barlow, who is the creator of the holiday, said;
“I want people to be able to see the wonder of the night sky without the effects of light pollution […] I want to help preserve its wonder.”
Before light pollution was such a huge issue, the night sky inspired arts, language, religion, and left our ancestors in awe. Even in Kent, there are areas that can produce a similar effect and make for amazing trips out with breathtaking stargazing sights. Some of these include:
Dungeness: Located on the coast of England in Kent, its home to Dungeness National Nature Reserve and as it is a rural area, has relatively low levels of light pollution. (This may vary due to weather conditions.) Tunbridge Wells Commons: Located in West Kent in the town of Tunbridge Wells and surrounded by scenic countryside, due to it being suburban, there is still some light pollution. However, permitting good weather conditions, it’s still a very popular site for stargazing. It’s so important to connect with our world as we always have, and by raising awareness for these issues, you can preserve the only view we do have. Out there. Up there.
Thanks for reading.