Find out where the best places are in the East Midlands to go stargazing

Star gazing can be enjoyed by people of all ages and it doesn't have to cost you a penny. It can be done from almost anywhere and all you really need is your eyes to fully appreciate the night sky.

If you know when and where to go you really can make the most of any stargazing experience, once you channelled your inner Dara O Briain or Professor Brian Cox of course.

Weather is one of the most important factors when it comes to stargazing for amateurs and professional astronomers alike, as clouds can ruin a night under the stars.

The ideal time to go is when there is no bright moon at night and when the sun has set enough so twilight doesn't affect your stargazing.

Stargazing family looking at the Milky Way -Credit:Getty
Stargazing family looking at the Milky Way -Credit:Getty

Depending on what you want to see will determine how far you need to travel. You need to get away from light pollution and there are five types of stargazing sites: dark, rural, semi-rural, suburban and urban.

If you want to observe the moon, planets and even some of the brighter deep-sky objects, all look great through a telescope from suburban or urban areas.

If you want to see the skies at their very best, you may need to go further afield. Driving a few miles out of town to semi-rural areas can make a huge difference.

A spokesman at Go Stargazing, a website ideal for anyone with interest in astronomy whether beginner or expert, said: "Getting the best views of our star-filled Milky Way galaxy requires finding a really dark sky site and for most people that means travelling some distance.

"The effects of light pollution on how we see the night time skies is dramatic. From a light polluted town or city it's impossible to see perhaps 200 stars. However, from a dark sky site it is possible to see as many as 3,000 stars without any visual aid on a moonless night."

In the UK there is a growing number of regions designated as 'dark sky parks', 'reserves' and 'islands'. In these locations measures are taken to keep light pollution to a minimum and are ideal for stargazing. These include:

  • Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

  • Brecon Beacons, Wales

  • Elan Valley, west Wales

  • Exmoor, south west England

  • Galloway, Scotland

  • Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides of Scotland

  • Northumberland, north east England

  • South Downs, Hampshire and East Sussex

A little closer to home, in the East Midlands, are the following.

Recommended stargazing sites:

  • Minninglow, Pikehall, DE4 2PN

  • Parsley Hay, Buxton, SK17 0DG


  • Flamsteed Observatory, Brailsford, DE6 3BE

  • Rosliston Forestry Centre, Swadlincote, DE12 8JX

  • Sherwood Observatory, Mansfield, NG17 5LF

  • Trent Astronomical Observatory, Nottingham, NG11 8NF

What to see:

To go stargazing, there are some types which can only been seen through a telescope or binoculars, but there are still many to enjoy with just the naked eye.

The Milky Way

This is the holy grail of going stargazing and can be seen with the naked eye. It is best seen in autumn when it is high overhead and spans much of the sky. You are looking for a band of light which looks like a smoke wave with dark ribbons running through it.

Meteor showers

These showers are associated with debris left behind by the progress of comets through the solar system. The dates are quite predictable and a times stargazers will see as many as 100 or so meteors an hour.


There are 88 recognised constellations however, many of us only recognise a handful – and that’s due to the association with the zodiac.

Stars are not usually alone and more often than not can be found in double, triple or even more complex associations.

Star clusters

The Milky Way over Appledurcombe House, Wroxall on the Isle of Wight, during the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2016 -Credit:Getty
The Milky Way over Appledurcombe House, Wroxall on the Isle of Wight, during the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2016 -Credit:Getty

Sometimes in loose open groups (open clusters) or tighter balls (globular clusters).

The great globular cluster such as Hercules can be seen with a naked eye and open clusters such as the Pleaides (or seven sisters) are easier to spot.


These are very difficult to see, even via a large telescope. One of the best is the Whirlpool galaxy which can be found quite close to the first star in the handle of the plough, the group of stars which is part of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).


These are gas clouds, and one of the most famous is the great cloud which forms the middle "star" in Orion's sword, which, when viewed with binoculars or telescopes, shows itself to be a huge swirling cloud in which new stars are beginning to shine.

The moon

Okay, this may seem a given but an occasional highlight is a lunar eclipse when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth. Some eclipses even cause the moon to appear red.


It's possible to see most of the planets – all bar the most distant – with the naked eye, but all are much better with telescopes. The best to check out are Jupiter and Saturn, both of which show surface detail of cloud bands, rings and moons orbiting them.


Often called the Northern Lights, once seen is never forgotten with this spectacle. Those who live in the north are more likely to see the glowing arcs of light near the horizon, and many living in the Midlands have even seen the characteristic glow of red, green and purple.


Earth is being orbited by much more than its own natural satellite, the moon, and there are now hundreds of man-made satellites orbiting us. These can easily be seen by the naked eye and the largest is the International Space Station which orbits the earth in about 90 minutes, a mere 250 miles above the surface.

What to to take with you:

All you need is to put yourself outside under the clear sky, but the experience can be made a lot more comfortable with a bit of forward planning and preparation.


You must dress appropriately - even in the summer months, as the evenings and nights can get quite cold. Winter, however is a different beast.

You can soon find yourself in sub zero temperatures – and it's really important to check out the weather forecast before you venture out into the open countryside.

Dressing in layers will help to trap air between them which increases the insulation – and it’s really easy to strip the layers off if needed. Take a hat, scarf and gloves with you.

Go Stargazing recommends gloves with removable mitten sections or with the finger tips removable in case you need to operate binoculars or a telescope.


Make yourself a flash of tea or coffee and take along some chocolates or biscuits for a sugar hit. Kendal Mint Cake is popular with climbers and mountaineers so it might be worth popping a couple of bars in your bag.


Be sure to take a torch but there are different types so don't get caught out. White light torches are an ideal to light your way around, but will mean that your eyes won’t be as sensitive to low light levels, meaning your vision will take time to recover every time you use a white light torch.

By far the better option is to use a red light torch. These have the effect of not stimulating your eyes natural responses in the same way maximising your night vision. You can buy cheap head torches that have a red LED option – these work well.

Vectra sky map -Credit:Getty images
Vectra sky map -Credit:Getty images


As long as you have provisions and are wrapped up warm there is no real need for any equipment, but if you have binoculars or telescopes, you will be able to see more.

If you are not an experienced observer, don't forget to take star charts or books to help you check what you are looking at.

A hand held star chart - or planisphere - is a great way of understanding the night sky but don't forget, you probably have a powerful computer in your pocket already – your smart phone.

There are lots of apps which can be downloaded onto a smart phone and these will have the locations of the stars in the sky and can present a real time view of the night sky for you to compare your view with.

Some of these use the phone's GPS, compass and built-in inclinomter to mirror the way the device is pointing giving you access to information about the object your phone is pointed at.

Here is a list of some apps can help flag up events and help you understand the night sky.

  • Sky Week

  • Pocket Universe

  • Google Skymap

  • Meteor Shower Calendar

  • ISS Detector

  • ISS Spotter

  • Aurora Alert

If you would like to join an astronomical society, here are the locations for ones in the East Midlands:

  • Erewash Museum and Gardens in High Street, Ilkeston, DE7 5JA.

  • Gaddesby Village Hall, Ashby Road, Melton Mowbray, LE7 4WF

  • Gateford Park Primary Schoo', 45 Roundhouse Crescent, Worksop, S81 7AL

  • Rosliston Forestry Centre, Rosliston, South Derbyshire, DE12 8JX.

  • Shipley Country Park Visitors’ Centre, Heanor, DE75 7GX

  • Wilson Pavilion at Oakham School, Ashwell Road, Oakham, LE15 7QH