THE annual Dark Skies Festival, due to start on February 15, highlights the continuing fascination of The Moon, says Richard Darn, astronomer and dark skies hunter. Later this year will also see the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing on the Moon. Never has there been a better time to enjoy the dark skies of the Dales.

LAST month’s lunar eclipse and those images of the Super Blood Wolf moon really showed just how much Earth’s nearest neighbour in space captures people’s imaginations.

It can feel humbling looking at the moon not simply because it is over four billion years’ old but because it has had, and continues to have, such a profound influence on humankind despite being 230,000 miles away from us.

As we near the fourth Dark Skies Festival in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, it’s good to remind ourselves of the enormity of that influence, particularly as this year coincides with the 50th anniversary of the historic first lunar landing by astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

Our constant lunar companion has played a big part in the development of life on Earth astronomers believe. As well as the gravitational pull between Earth and the Moon creating tides in the seas, it has also stabilised our planet’s rotation. This means we avoid big climatic shifts that could spell doom for plants and animals.

Its cultural influences are felt far and wide too – from being an important symbol in mythology through to inspiring tales of folklore and even being used in phrases we use in everyday conversation.

Since that first Apollo landing 10 more astronauts have followed in Armstrong and Aldrin’s footsteps and yet there remains an insatiable quest for knowledge about the Moon among scientists with so many questions still remaining unanswered.

The fact that recently an American woman was charged with selling moon rock that Apollo astronauts had originally brought back from their exploration shows how precious that information can be. The judge presiding over the case estimated the financial value of the rock to be $50,800 per gram, making moon dust more precious than gold dust.

Weather permitting, when visitors look to the skies during the first week of the Dark Skies Festival they’ll be treated to the second Supermoon of the year which is due to make an appearance on February 19.

This phenomenon occurs as the moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular and so occasionally it’s slightly closer to earth than at other times. When this coincides with a full moon it appears a little larger.

Armed even with a small telescope and modest binoculars people will be able to pick out amazing lunar craters caused by huge lumps of space rocks crashing into the surface at great speed and leaving a permanent scar.

The biggest craters are given names by astronomers and one of the most impressive is called Copernicus, a whopping 56 miles across! You can even see spectacular mountain ranges like the Apennine Mountains, where jagged peaks up to 16,000 feet high cast fabulous shadows.

The dark areas you can see with your naked eye are caused by volcanic lava seeping through the lunar crust. Historically observers thought they might be vast oceans so they called them Seas – or Mare (Latin for sea). The most famous is Mare Tranquillitatis – or the Sea of Tranquillity – where in 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on an alien world.

It’s no wonder then that our intrigue is piqued when we take the time to sit and look at the moon.

Alongside the stargazing sessions, many of the Festival’s activities will indulge that lunar intrigue whether it’s youngsters making moon rocks, families being taken on a moongazing safari by experts or adventure seekers paddling in a canoe by moonlight. You can even learn photography techniques from the professionals to capture the moon in all its glory.

The Dark Skies Festival takes place from February 15 to March 3 making the most of the special and beautiful skies above Yorkshire’s protected landscapes. In the Dales events will include a night walk at Grimwith Reservoir, stargazing at Malham Cove, Supermoon evening at Simonstone Hall in Hawes and a star party at Stump Cross Caverns near Pateley Bridge. To find out more, visit: