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Travel

Discover a new world from darkest Wales: Weather presenter Sian Lloyd gets a telescope-glimpse of space

By Sian Lloyd For The Mail On Sunday


As a weather presenter, I’ve spent most of my career looking up to the skies, but I’ve never really spent much time exploring what lies far beyond.


But that changed when I was given the opportunity to visit the 45,000-acre Elan Valley Estate in Mid Wales.


In 2015, it became the first privately owned land to be granted International Dark Sky Park status, which means it is protected against light pollution.


To witness the skies in glorious detail, Sian made use of a £400 Skywatcher 250P DS telescope, mounted on a £1,000 Skywatcher NEQ6 Synscan, pictured


Showing me around was Richard Poole, of the site’s owners Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water), and Nick Busby, chairman of the Usk Astronomical Society, who is a lifelong astro-photographer.


Even in big cities, the moon, planets and brighter constellations are all often visible to the naked eye. But move to more rural and darker skies and you open up new worlds of possibilities.


In a place such as Elan Valley, you can see much of the Milky Way, and on clear nights you can even make out bright nebulae – gas and dust clouds.


Come armed with even basic binoculars and you’ll spot the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the Milky Way in stunning detail.


Clearly, though, these things are best explored with a telescope. We used a £400 Skywatcher 250P DS telescope, mounted on a £1,000 Skywatcher NEQ6 Synscan. With this equipment, we were able to see the heavens in all their glory.


Our first stop was the Great Orion Nebula, right in the middle of Orion’s Sword. The detail was truly exquisite.


In a place such as Elan Valley, you can see much of the Milky Way, and on clear nights you can even make out bright nebulae, pictured


We also saw the Perseus cluster, which shone like perfectly shaped diamonds in the sky.


But my highlight was the Beehive cluster or Praesepe, in the constellation of Cancer. Through the telescope, it was magical to see how each star’s gases and age altered their appearance and brightness.


What intrigued me most was when Nick explained that if I came back a few months later, I’d have a completely different viewing experience.


The seasons all have different constellations in the evening because of the Earth moving around the Sun.


In winter months, you tend to see brighter constellations such as Orion, Taurus and Gemini, while in summer the Milky Way is much more pronounced and we can see the centre of the galaxy in Sagittarius as well as magnificent constellations such as Cygnus.


Come armed with even basic binoculars and you’ll spot the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, pictured, and the Milky Way in stunning detail


Perhaps understandably, I also overestimated the impact of weather.


Periods of high pressure when the jet stream moves away from the UK bring out the clearest nights, but Nick explained that rain need not dampen the experience – he has even shown audiences storms on Jupiter in wet weather before.


All told, stargazing was truly magnificent. Not only was I able to admire parts of space that were a mystery to me, but I came to realise the experience is also much more accessible.


It was an absolute treat – and I cannot imagine a better place to enjoy it than in rugged Mid Wales.