AN astronomy expert who grew up on the coast is boosting the stellar line-up of big names taking part in next month’s Dark Skies Festival, which is jointly organised by the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.

The Open University’s head of astronomy Professor Carole Haswell returns to her hometown of Saltburn for two evening events at Hunley Hotel to talk about her work, which includes the discovery of planets that orbit stars other than the sun, so-called exoplanets.

Professor Haswell’s appearance underlines the popularity among Dark Sky Festival, which also includes evenings with BBC Sky at Night presenter Professor Chris Lintott and Professor Andy Newsam from Liverpool John Moores University.

The 17-day festival begins on February 14 and runs until March 1 and both National Parks are reporting strong demand in the 150-plus events; already about a fifth of the events requiring pre-booked tickets are sold out and new dates are being added.

The stargazing evenings are proving particularly popular and more sessions have been added at locations such as Ravenscar and Cober Hill on the coast; at Terrington in the Howardian Hills and at Danby where experts will also share how to see and understand the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.

Other events in and around the North York Moors National Park include the new “travels into space” sessions, astrophotography sessions at Helmsley Walled Garden, the night zip wire experience in Dalby Forest, Robin Hood’s Bay ghost walks, nocturnal wildlife evenings in Keldy and Cropton, and dark sky walks at Chop Gate and Lastingham.

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