Glorious beaches, sub-tropical gardens – and heaven for astronomy: How dark skies and a community observatory have added to the Scilly Isles’ star attractions
- The island of St Martin’s has just 120 residents and almost no light pollution
- COSMOS – the Community Observatory St Martin’s – opened in 2019
- The inaugural Scilly Dark Skies Week has just been held on St Martin’s
- Tamara Hinson dropped by for some star gazing and a ‘Saturn selfie’
The inaugural Scilly Dark Skies Week was held on St Martin’s (pictured), the archipelago’s northernmost populated island
It’s famous for its glorious beaches, subtropical gardens and as one of the Royal Family’s favourite holiday spots. Now there’s another reason to visit the Isles of Scilly: to explore the night skies.
The inaugural Scilly Dark Skies Week has just been held on St Martin’s, the archipelago’s northernmost populated island. And it’s all about COSMOS – the Community Observatory St Martin’s – which opened in 2019.
The island of just 120 residents has almost no light pollution, and gaggles of locals and passionate star-gazers have been lugging their telescopes here for years. The observatory idea was launched in 2016, when supporters got together and decided to make their skies more accessible.
One of those behind the project is Mark Holmes, who had received the British Astronomical Association’s Sir Patrick Moore prize after setting up a community observatory at High Legh in Cheshire. Mark was holidaying in a cottage rented from resident Val Thomas – now COSMOS’s chairwoman – when Val mentioned that she wanted to attract more visitors.
Mark suggested focusing on the dark skies which had lured him here, and the plan for an observatory was born. After three years of negotiating logistical minefields and planning meetings, it opened in 2019.
The island of St Martin’s (above) has just 120 residents and almost no light pollution. ‘Gaggles of locals and passionate star-gazers have been lugging their telescopes here for years,’ says Tamara
COSMOS, tucked behind the island’s community centre, comprises two domes with two high-power telescopes, next to a tech-filled warm room lined with photographs documenting the construction process.
My visit during COSMOS’s inaugural Scilly Dark Skies Week included talks about dark-sky photography and guided walks around the island. And, of course, star-gazing sessions.
We marvelled at the Milky Way’s brightness, waited for a turn on the telescope and watched shooting stars streak across the sky. Locals have even seen the Northern Lights.
There was something lovely about huddling around the domes, passing around binoculars like hip flasks and calling out observations, whether it was the International Space Station or shooting stars.
I peered through the telescope and saw Saturn’s rings with jaw-dropping clarity, and used my phone to take a picture of its rings through the lens – the closest I’ll ever come to a Saturn selfie.
B&B at Karma St Martin’s (karmagroup.com) costs from £200 per room, per night. Single fares from Land’s End to St Mary’s with Skybus (islesofscilly-travel.co.uk/skybus) are from £93. The COSMOS community observatory is open to the public. Visit cosmosscilly.co.uk for details.
Source: Read Full Article