Living in a city is amazing, especially one like Bristol. But if there’s one downside, it has to be the light pollution. A faint, orange glow cast over the city pretty much rules out any chance at seeing stars at night. But living so close to the countryside, we thankfully have some of the best spots to go stargazing near Bristol.
In fact, one of the best spots to see stars is less than an hour’s drive from Bristol. (Or one bus ride from the city centre.) A recent study from BestGamblingSites.com analysed light pollution data to predict the best and worst locations in the UK for stargazing this April. It found that Wells in Somerset, the smallest city in England, is the fourth best spot for stargazing in the UK.
This cathedral city, located on the edge of the Mendip Hills, was not the only location int the South West listed, however. Just as close, if a little easier to get to by transport, was Chippenham in Wiltshire. It came in at 11, ahead of Salisbury (13) but behind Winchester in Hampshire (7) and Truro in Cornwall (3).
The best place for stargazing in the UK, however is over in Wales. During the upcoming Dark Sky Week (April 15 – 22), St Davids in Pembrokeshire is estimated to have the clearest view of stars in the whole country.
Why is seeing stars important?
The impact of light pollution and not seeing stars can be super detrimental on our brains.
“As humans, we are biologically inclined to be awake during the day and asleep at night,” said James Roy, brain health expert from Brainworks Neurotherapy. “Daylight is the natural regulator of our circadian rhythms, so the more light we introduce into our nighttime skies, the harder it is for our bodies to determine what time it actually is.
Even low levels of artificial light intensity at night have been found to suppress melatonin production, our sleep hormone which induces drowsiness, making it harder for us to fall asleep. This can lead to insomnia which will cause tiredness, fatigue and poor mental health.
On a brain level, the ‘out of sync’ daylight hours and sleep disruption weaken the power of our all-important frontal lobes. A weakening of our frontal brain activity impairs memory, decision making and our ability to regulate our emotional reactions.”
How were the best spots for stargazing decided?
Taking the latitude and longitude of each location, BestGamblingSites.com inputted each place into lightpollutionmap.info. Readings for the Bortle scale (class 1 – 9), SQM (mag./arc sec2) and artificial brightness (µcd/m2) were then collected for each location. A rank score out of 100 was created, summarising the three readings into a final score.
Bortle scale is a classification system used to measure light pollution, from 1 (darkest, best for stargazing) to 9 (worst for stargazing). SQM (Sky Quality Meter) is an instrument used to give a reading on the luminance of the night sky; a rating of 16.00, is the lowest and therefore the brightest sky, while 22.00 is the highest and thus the darkest. Artificial brightness, meanwhile, measures sky brightness against natural brightness, which is set at 174 µcd/m2: A rating higher than 3,000 µcd/m2 is known as ‘Very high light intensity’ and at this level, the human eye does not need to adapt to the dark to see.