AS the latest Northumberland star camp opened last night an amateur astronomer has taken advantage of the county’s inky black skies to peer half way back through time.
Robbie Ince, who grew up in Ashington in Northumberland, has been visiting Kielder Water & Forest Park for six years to take part in the bi-annual star camps, the latest of which runs until Monday.
Enthralled by the area’s starry skies, he has completed a spectacular project to recreate one of the greatest astronomical pictures ever taken, called the Hubble Deep Field.
That image, taken in 1995, was composed over 10 days revealing that even a seemingly barren tiny patch of sky is brimming with distant galaxies.
But what NASA’s multi-million dollar hardware did, Robbie was determined to emulate in his own way, but using a modest eight-inch telescope firmly planted on the grass at the Kielder Campsite.
His sleepless vigil was rewarded with one of the most striking images ever taken in the forest, depicting the feeble light of scores of galaxies – ancient star cities – up to six billion light years away.
“I am a big fan of Kielder’s superb dark skies and always wondered how deep I could image from there, even with my own relatively modest equipment,” said Robbie, who now lives in Preston.
“To see such a distant object was a big surprise. It’s very much like looking back in time to when the universe was scarcely half its present age. Northumberland is very special place and there are few parts of England where I could have taken this image.”
Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park Authority and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society are working to have 400 square miles of Northumberland designated for the quality of its starry sky and to help combat light pollution.
An audit of external lighting in parts of the proposed dark sky area will soon start as part of the application process which will be judged by the Tucson-based International Dark Skies Association.
If the bid is successful Northumberland would gain the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. The move has drawn support from tourism and wildlife bodies, parish councils and astronomical organisations.
Emma Marrington, rural policy campaigner with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Northumberland offers exceptional dark skies with very little light pollution to detract from the tranquillity and pristine night skies of the area. “