The first European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake, revealed secrets of the universe to a group of year 5 and year 6 primary school children under some of the darkest skies of the year in the Gower Peninsula in Wales at Arthur’s Stone, Cefn Bryn.
The former Apache pilot, flight instructor, and test pilot led the six budding scientists to a stargazing camp on a dark night in November for their first experience of the wonders of the sky at night – as part of a Visit Wales and Welsh Government initiative.
November is one of the best times of year to see dark skies, due to lower levels of water vapour, dust and haze.
The children were given a unique lesson in gazing up at the stars by one of the few people on the planet who has looked down at the earth from space, finding out how to spot the constellations that make up the Milky Way, neighbouring planets in our solar system as well as galaxies such as Andromeda.
Wales has some of the darkest, clearest and unpolluted skies in the world and it has the highest percentage of land with protected dark skies status on the planet.
Tim Peake, who recently attended COP26 conference to discuss solutions for climate change, said: “Looking down at the earth from the International Space Station gives a unique perspective of our fragile planet and how connected we are across the globe.
“And looking up at the night sky from Earth is as important as looking down from above. It reveals the wonders of our universe and shows children that they have a lifetime of limitless possibilities ahead of them.”
“Not all young people have the same access to dark skies, but it’s so important to look up to the stars and be inspired for the future, to understand why we need to protect the planet and to ask the big questions about life.”
“Wales offers a huge number of opportunities for seeing the night’s sky at its best with Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Parks and of course low levels of light pollution.”
The awe-inspired youngsters from Swansea are hoping to be astronauts in the future, most of whom had their first ever experience of witnessing the magic of the stars and completely dark skies at the event with Tim Peake.
Jessica Sadler from Sea View Primary School in Swansea said: “Now I’ve seen the dark skies I want to see them more often, and I’ll be looking out from now on.
“In the future, I hope to see a shooting star and I would love to travel to space one day.”
In December 2015, Tim became the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station and conduct a spacewalk during his six-month mission. He also ran the London marathon from space.
His mission engaged more than two million students in outreach activities and he is an ambassador for STEM Education.
Tim regularly visits Wales and famously wished the people of Wales a Happy St David’s Day from aboard the International Space Station in 2016.
Wales’ vast network of three International Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Parks have been singled out by astronomers as world-beating places to go stargazing. There are also hundreds of other places, from small and accessible Dark Sky Discovery Sites to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething, said: “The Welsh Government is working hard to help Wales’ young people reach their full potential. So meeting someone who has done something truly out of this world like Tim Peake is an excellent way to inspire our younger generations to reach for the stars, helping them see that they can be what they aspire to be.
“As part of our economic vision to create a stronger, fairer, greener economic future, we’re looking to inspire more young people to take up STEM subjects – and be inspired by the world around us. What better way to do that than by learning more about space from your own doorstep.
“The wonders of our dark skies in autumn and winter shows that Wales is an inspirational place to visit all year round.”
The children attended from Sea View Primary School in Swansea. Councillor Robert Francis-Davies, Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration & Tourism at Swansea Council said: “We are delighted that after a sell-out event at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall, Tim decided to extend his stay in Swansea Bay and share his enthusiasm for our dark skies and his experiences in space with children from Sea View Community Primary School – what a privilege for them to meet a real-life astronaut!
“This recognition is timely as we are in the process of applying for Dark Sky Community Status for Gower. There are several places on the Gower Peninsula where you can appreciate the wide expanse of our night sky – it’s yet another way in which we can appreciate the outdoors and spend quality time in nature all year round.”
Lead image: Tim Peake, the British astronaut pictured on the top of Cefn Bryn on the Gower Peninsula is South Wales. He is alongside a dome especially set up to show local school children the wonder of stargazing and the beauty of the dark skies of Wales.
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