Star Spangled Kyrangle

In 2017, the Heavitree Squilometre project ran a Park in the Dark event in Heavitree Pleasure Ground. Dr Claire Davies, researcher in Exeter University’s Astrophysics Group, gave a talk on the Perseids and star lore. Later I found out that she is also a Digby resident, and the Star Spangled Kyrangle was born!

The night sky is on everyone’s doorstep, but not everyone looks up. It’s been getting harder and harder, as light pollution gets worse. But now there is a movement towards dark skies, on the large scale and the small scale. For example, Exmoor National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, and Devon County Council has installed low-pollution LED streetlighting in Rifford Road. And Exeter has plenty of parks: green space by day, starlit by night.

The two events of the Star Spangled Kyrangle were opportunities to bring people together, and encourage them to be attentive to their place, surroundings and nature. The night sky holds many myths and stories in its depths. It has spoken to humanity since our earliest times. Over millennia we have probed the heavens, seeking wisdom and weaving patterns. Generations of navigators have used the kindly guidance of the stars to find their way on land and sea. The Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, and many other ancient civilisations have sought to explain the movements of the planets and enigmatic wandering comets. Still today, scientists are fascinated and humbled by the mysteries of space. We too can step outside and look up, and gaze at the beauty of the night sky, and wonder.

Other than on your own doorstep, where else can you watch stars?

The Norman Lockyer Observatory in Sidmouth is very active. Dartmoor Skies runs events using a mini mobile observatory (it was partly inspired by looking for shooting stars during the Perseid meteor shower).

And Exeter has caught the star-spangled bug. Watch out for more events in Belmont and Polsloe Parks over the coming months.

For anyone who is thinking of organising a similar event, you can find more specific information below.

Keep looking up!!

Perseids Shooting Stars

from 9:00pm BST on 13 August 2018

As the Earth follows its orbit around the Sun, it encounters debris at the same place at the same time. So each year we are treated to meteor showers, as the debris enters and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids in August are one of the most prolific meteor showers. They take their name from the constellation Perseus, the point in the sky where they appear to come.

Thankfully, we were blessed with some clear weather at the beginning of our designated week. So on the Monday we gathered together as the skies darkened and the planets and stars appeared.

At dusk, as bats flitted around us, we had great views of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and the crescent moon. There were some spectacular shooting stars, and it was wonderful to hear everyone’s oohs! It was especially lovely to hear your stories – of how these were the first shooting stars you’d ever seen, or how this was the best event of your (long) weekend.

A big thank you to Dr Claire Davies and her colleagues from University Astrophysics for leading us through the evening. All massively knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and informative.

Nature bonus: The bats

Winter Star Lore

from 6:30pm GMT on 13 November 2018

The November event was a bit more problematic. Never work with children, animals, or weather! The Monday brought hail and gusting winds, but thankfully Tuesday was finer, and we took the opportunity.

It was still a little cloudy. Although there were plenty of gaps in the lower cloud and we could see the skies, there was also a thin layer of high cloud that obscured all but the brightest heavenly bodies.

Mars was bright and easy to pick out. We had a telescope trained on its disc much of the evening. We could also see the Summer Triangle, a pattern of three stars of similar brightness in three different constellations, that has been used in recent centuries for navigation: Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila.

Each different culture finds its own patterns in the sky. These constellations are what we see in the west, but other cultures see other constellations. And we can find our own patterns too. Claire brought some prints of the negative sky, and Royal Astronomical Society pencils, so we could make our own constellations.

Those who came to watch the Perseids shooting stars will know that these are meteoroids when floating through space, meteors when they are in the atmosphere and meteorites when they hit the ground. Dr Claire brought the University’s tiny billion year old meteorite, and another larger one that we could hold, this only 45,000 years old. Meteorites are heavy. I took my laptop showing my animation of NASA meteorite landing data that show just how many meteorites there have been, and some images from Astrophysics showing what they look like under an electron microscope.

And then there was mulled apple juice (sadly not from Isaac Newton’s orchard), Milky Ways (of course), a portable planetarium, holographic postcards, and a 3D print of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the target of the Rosetta probe and Philae lander. Comets are odd.

So another big thank you to our stars Dr Claire and colleagues.

Nature bonus: A fox

Organise your own

For each event, we blocked out Monday-Friday in our diaries. The actual date of course was at the mercy of the weather, and we kept a weather eye on the Met Office cloud cover forecast, and other forecast information. We asked interested people to sign up to a mailing list, so we could keep them informed of definite no-go dates, and confirm the date we chose. We also posted on social media.

We met by the playground at the well-lit corner of Unicorn Street and Coburg Green in Digby, and moved onto the grass for the stargazing. In August, we started close to Coburg Green. Although there are streetlights, it’s possible to get a view of the sky facing away from them, and this was the direction we needed to face for the meteor shower. In November, we moved further towards Digby station – the area that is named the Kyrangle – where it’s reasonably screened and dark enough to get a good view of the stars.


The small print we circulated…

Families are welcome. Under-16s must be accompanied by an adult. Parents or responsible adults must keep their children with them at all times.

No dogs, please.

Do wear suitable footwear and dress up warm, as it will be cold! You could bring something to lie on, maybe even a sleeping bag. If you need a torch to see, we suggest you bring a red light (which helps your eyes adjust better to the dark than a white light).

You could install a sky-viewing app on your photo (switched to night view), and bring binoculars or even a telescope if you have one!

We ask local participants to avoid driving to the event if possible, so that traffic and parking is kept to a minimum.

Wheelchair access: there is a tarmac path on the Kyrangle.

There are foxes about, so please don’t venture near the hedges where you might disturb dens, don’t let children pet any animals, and use torches when leaving the event so any nearby foxes are not ‘surprised’ by your presence.

Please also be mindful of nearby residents, and keep the noise down so as not to disturb them.


Dr Claire Davies and her colleagues from the University of Exeter Astrophysics department, of course!

And finally…

Here are two shots of the Kyrangle at dawn and dusk from Minecraft my home!