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Ballymena revealed as the second best place for stargazing in Northern Ireland

Looking at the stars through a telescope

Ahead of the ‘Strawberry Moon’ on 22nd June, outdoor experts have revealed the best areas to stargaze in Northern Ireland. 


The study, conducted by Millets, reveals Ballymena as the second best location in Northern Ireland to look heavenward, taking into account factors such as light pollution and air quality index scores. These were used to rate and rank the best star-gazing spots in the UK and across the province.


Astronomy can inspire awe and wonder about our planet and galaxy. Stargazing is one of the best ways to get outside and connect with nature while learning about celestial objects like comets and meteors.



While the stars can be seen from just about anywhere in the UK, the best sites for astronomical events are usually rural, dark sky locations away from urban life. When visiting these locations, you should wear appropriate outdoor clothing and footwear. The darkest moon phases, like a new moon, also provide ideal conditions for watching the stars.


The experts at Millets reveal the best places in the UK and the best times of year and nights for astronomers to see the clearest views of the stars. These locations not only benefit from dark skies but also provide social opportunities, with stargazing groups and scheduled events.



They also take a look at some expert tips for anyone interested in how to take top quality pictures of the stars.


The county town of County Armagh is the darkest major location in the country, with a brightness of 1.12 mcd/m2. These dark conditions provide the ideal setting for watching the stars, ensuring their glow is not washed out by artificial lighting.


Northern Ireland’s top three stargazing locations

The Northern Irish town also has an air quality index (AQI) of 35, where 50 or below is considered good, clean air.  Armagh is also the joint darkest location in the study across all UK towns and cities, with a brightness level matched only by Llanelli in Wales.


Although a high AQI can indicate the presence of haze and particulate matter in the atmosphere, Armagh’s AQI is still considered good and is unlikely to impair the views of the stars.


In second place is Ballymena, situated in county Antrim. The town has a brightness of 1.13 mcd/m2 and an air quality index (AQI) of 29. 



Carrickfergus comes in third place with a stargazing score of 9.04/10. With a brightness of 1.45 mcd/m2 and an air quality score of 28, the town has great conditions to view stars. 


The study reveals Northern Ireland’s top 10 stargazing locations below.


Northern Ireland’s top 10 stargazing locations

The best nights to stargaze in 2024


The best predicted nights to stargaze in the next five months are during the new moon phase of September 2024. From the second to the fifth days of September, the illumination level from moonlight will be at 3% and below, with extended darkness hours.


Stargazing guide for September 2024

The best predicted nights to stargaze in the next five months

Best Nights To Stargaze in June


Uk stargazing guide for June 2024

Those stargazing in June are predicted to have the most success when observing between the 4th and 7th of the month.


The new moon phase will likely begin on the 5th of June, bringing total darkness to the nights of the 6th and 7th of the month. During these nights, when observing in a rural location away from artificial light, astronomers have a greater chance of witnessing events like shooting stars.



Best Nights To Stargaze in July


Uk stargazing guide for July 2024

If you plan to stargaze in July, the nights that will likely be the darkest for the longest amount of time are between the 5th and the 8th of the month. The July new moon phase is estimated to begin on the 5th of June, lasting until the 7th, with the waxing crescent moon phase covering the 8th night.


The best night to stargaze during this period of time is the 6th of July, when the moonlight illumination level is predicted to be 0%, with total darkness between 22:13 and 01:57.


Best Nights To Stargaze in August



In August, the best nights to get outside and observe the night sky are between the 4th and the 7th of the month. While the new moon phase of the month is likely to begin on the 3rd, the nights of the 4th until the 7th bring the most extended hours of darkness.


The best night to stargaze is the 5th of August, with a 0% moonlight illumination level and darkness hours from 21:12 to 03:01.



Best Times Of Year To Stargaze


Best Times Of Year To Stargaze

Observing season


The ‘observing season’ refers to the time of year when celestial phenomena are most clearly visible in the night sky.


Winter is the best time of the year to stargaze - generally from when clocks go back in October, when nights become one hour longer, to the time they go forward in March when nights become one hour shorter. Winter often brings clearer skies due to reduced humidity levels and darker nights.


Many stargazing events and group meetups are organised during this period. Due to limited darkness and star visibility, many non-commercial observatories are closed during summer.


Summer Twilight


The summer months often bring long days and short nights and can significantly reduce stargazing opportunities.


The skies take longer to get dark after sunset and often get lighter earlier before sunrise, providing increased twilight hours. This results in a shorter period of time to view dark skies.


Despite this, around midnight, summer constellations like Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra can be seen from the UK.



Moon Phases


Natural moonlight washes out the faint light from most stars, leaving only the brightest stars visible. Therefore, the full moon is often the worst time to stargaze — at this time, even dark sky sites, free from artificial light pollution, are often no darker than a built-up city centre.


The best time to go stargazing is the days before, during, and soon after each new moon when there is no moon visible in the sky to disrupt the darkness. You will have better views of fainter objects, such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters when using a telescope during a new moon.


You can track moon phases online or using apps. Popular websites to track the moon phase include Moon Phases and Go Stargazing. Look out for the waning crescent, new moon, and waxing crescent phases, which often offer the most ideal conditions for spotting constellations and astronomical objects.


How to take pictures of the stars


How to take pictures of the stars

1. Use a wide-angle or fisheye lens


A wide-angle lens lets you capture as much of the night sky as possible. Although fisheye lenses introduce some optical distortion, this often makes images even more interesting. A rucksack can help you carry all the stargazing and photography equipment you need.


2. Use a tripod


A sturdy tripod is essential when capturing photos of the stars. Long-exposure images that last 15-30 seconds yield the best results, and your camera must be completely still and stable when capturing these to avoid blurriness.


3. Choose a dark location


You will get the best results when shooting in a location away from light pollution. This will result in the clearest images.



4. Use a camera with manual settings


A DSLR camera with manual settings gives you complete control over settings, including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This means you can adjust the settings to provide optimal results with some experimentation.


5. Use a fast and wide aperture


A lens with a wide aperture (low f-stop number) lets more light in, letting you accurately capture even the faintest stars. You should use the widest aperture your lens allows. An aperture at or below f/2.8 is ideal.


6. Increase ISO sensitivity


Increasing the ISO sensitivity of your camera makes it more sensitive to light. An ISO of 1600-3200 is an ideal starting point. Full-frame sensors often offer better high-ISO capabilities and fast shutter speeds. If shooting in an area with more light pollution, like a city, you should keep the ISO at around 800 to reduce noise.


7. Adjust shutter speeds


Setting your shutter speed to around 25 seconds lets you capture the faintest, most distant stars. Any longer than around 30 seconds can lead to blurry results.



8. Turn off autofocus


Turning off autofocus lets you ensure all the stars in your frame are in focus.


9. Use a remote shutter release


A remote shutter release or timer can reduce movement resulting from physically pressing the camera button.


10. Choose the right time


Choosing a good location is a great start, but some nights are darker than others. Nights with the least moonlight offer the darkest conditions for astrophotography.


Clear skies are the perfect conditions for stargazing, but these conditions can also result in much cooler temperatures as the heat escapes the atmosphere more easily. Make sure you wrap up warmly with a jacket and bring a thermal flaskfor a quick and convenient source of heat.


Many of our stargazing locations are rural locations with uneven or rocky terrains; always set out with the right pair of boots and bring an appropriate-sized rucksack or bag to carry essentials and spare clothing.

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