Britain's star attractions: Astronomer captures dazzling cosmic shows in the skies above the UK

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Britain’s star attractions: Astronomer captures dazzling cosmic shows in the skies above the UK, from mesmerising meteor showers to breathtaking aurora displays

They’re all taken by Dan Monk, 30, an astronomer and the Director of Astrophotography at Kielder Observatory in Northumberland.

One photograph captures the majesty of the Milky Way, which he explains is ‘roughly 100,000 light-years across’, while another illustrates the Andromeda Galaxy – a ‘collection of half a trillion stars’ – and a third shows the Comet Neowise passing the Earth at 144,000mph.

Dan, who is originally from Sunderland, started learning about the night sky in his teens and eventually turned to astrophotography as a way to see more stars. He says: ‘Although looking through a telescope is an amazing experience, the human eye can’t compare to the detail that a camera can “see”.’

Look up and you'll see the Milky Way, as captured through Dan's lens. This striking picture was snared at Broad Haven South Beach in Pembrokeshire, Wales. According to Dan, the Milky Way is 'roughly 100,000 light-years across, meaning if you travelled at the speed of light it would take you 100,000 years to cross the galaxy'. He adds: 'The New Horizons spacecraft that was sent from Earth in 2006, travelling at over 36,000mph (57,936kph), took nine years to reach Pluto. It would take it two billion years to travel the diameter of the Milky Way'

Northumberland, the Lake District and Wales are among his favourite settings for celestial photographs in the UK. ‘There are currently 15 designated dark sky places in the UK as recognised by the International Dark Sky Association and The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the largest by area,’ he says. 

He continues: ‘The most exciting part of photographing the night sky is being able to expose yourself to breathtaking locations at night. Sitting under a dark sky surrounded by a serene landscape with the sound of the camera clicking and recording ancient photons of light is a magical experience.’ Scroll down to see awe-inspiring examples of Dan’s work… 

Another mesmerising shot of the Milky Way captured at Broad Haven South Beach. Describing the sky, Dan explains: 'Here we can see the core of our galaxy, known as the Galactic Centre. It is the brightest part of our galaxy due to the large population of stars. Right at the heart of the Galactic Centre sits a supermassive black hole which is over four million times the mass of our sun!'
Feast your eyes on the Geminids meteor shower of 2018, as captured at Sycamore Gap (of Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves fame) in Northumberland. The image is a composite of multiple images taken over three hours. Dan says: 'The Geminids are one of the most active showers of the year and under a dark sky you could potentially see one shooting star every one to two minutes, at its peak.' Explaining the science behind the celestial show, he says: 'The Geminid meteor shower has a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour. This means if the radiant of the shower was directly overhead, you were in perfect dark skies with no moonlight, and you could look in every direction of the sky all at once, you’d see 120 per hour. This is impossible, but if the shower occurs on a moonless night, from a dark location you may see one meteor every one to two minutes on average.' Want to see them for yourself? Dan says: 'The Geminds peak on December 13 and 14 every year and are best viewed in the northern hemisphere due to the high radiant'
A shot of the 'shooting stars' during a Geminid meteor shower taken in 2020 in Northumberland. Dan describes the stunning snapshot as a 'composite image showing seven meteors caught during a one-hour timelapse'. He adds: 'I’d have loved more meteors but the clouds arrived!' Shedding light on the origins of meteors, Dan explains: 'Meteors are tiny grains of dust from our solar system that burn up high in Earth's atmosphere. They can be anywhere from 50 to 80 miles above Earth's surface'

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