Do Look up - dark-sky season is here and you’re invited to get out and explore the universe

Autumn has landed, evenings are arriving earlier and getting darker, and it’s the perfect time to grab a telescope and take a look at the stars and peer at some planets

(Image credit: Getty)

We don’t want to freak you out, but while you were sleeping last night, the plane of Planet Earth's equator passed through the geometric centre of the Sun's disk, and the dark times are now upon us. No need to panic, though, it’s not all bad news. In fact, a lot of people - especially those who enjoy space exploration - are going to get pretty excited about it.

The autumn equinox took place last night, on Friday 23 September, at 2:03am (UK time), and now summer is definitely over and it’s officially autumn. From this moment on - well, until spring - the nights will be longer than the days. 

And while we might reluctantly bid the summer sun farewell, the occasion of the autumn equinox also marks the beginning of a pretty magical period of time, when it’s still warm enough to get outside and go camping - especially if you have a decent tent and sleeping bag to keep you cosy – but the evenings actually get dark enough, early enough, to allow you to explore the night sky in comfort from your campsite or garden.  

If you have been toying with the idea of testing out a telescope for stargazing, there’s no better time to start looking around for a good deal than now. If you’re new to space exploration, then start off by checking out the best telescopes for beginners

Some of the best binoculars are also ideal for exploring the night sky, and of course they are super easy to take out on night hikes to more remote spots where light pollution is low and the stars are especially spectacular. People will argue all night about the relative benefits of a telescope versus binoculars, but at the end of the day, both offer a window into the heavens. If you really want to explore distant galaxies, nebulae and star clusters, the new Vaonis Vespera is a great choice.


(Image credit: Getty)

Camping with children is especially rewarding at this time of year, with plenty of opportunities for sitting around a fire and roasting marshmallows. When the embers burn low, though, a quick trip around the galaxy before bed with one of the best telescopes for kids is a wonderful way to end a day of alfresco adventure, forming lifelong memories.

The further you can escape the glow of the city the better your trips into space will be, but one good way of learning about the night sky, and enjoying it in the best surroundings possible, is to go along  to one of the many dark sky festivals that happen around this time of year, in places like Exmoor, which was Europe’s first official dark sky reserve. 

Pat Kinsella
Freelance outdoor writer

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat Kinsella has been writing about outdoor pursuits and adventure sports for two decades. In pursuit of stories he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked across the Norwegian Alps, run ultras across the roof of Mauritius and through the hills of the Himalayas, and set short-lived speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. A former editor of several Australian magazines he’s a longtime contributor to publications including Sidetracked, Outdoor, National Geographic Traveller, Trail Running, The Great Outdoors, Outdoor Fitness and Adventure Travel, and a regular writer for Lonely Planet (for whom he compiled, edited and co-wrote the Atlas of Adventure, a guide to outdoor pursuits around the globe). He’s authored guides to exploring the coastline and countryside of Devon and Dorset, and recently wrote a book about pub walks. Follow Pat's adventures on Strava and instagram.