OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory
Northern Ireland gained its first ever Dark Sky Park with the opening of OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory in County Tyrone.
A £1.2m observatory and dark sky park located in Davagh Forest by the Sperrin mountains, County Tyrone, opened to the public on 17 October 2020, marking the birth of a new protected dark-sky location in Northern Ireland.
The region surrounding OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory is certified by the International Dark Sky Association as a 'Dark Sky Park': the first in Northern Ireland and the third IDA 'Dark Sky Place' on the island of Ireland.
The observatory is fitted out with a 14-inch LX600 Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a visitor centre with touch screens, binoculars, mini-telescopes and exhibitions.
Visitors can also don virtual reality headsets to learn more about star formation and the science behind the aurora.
The LX600 telescope is used for stargazing events and private tours of the observatory.
The region has been certified by the International Dark Sky Association, an international body that works with regional authorities to help regulate and designate areas where views of the night sky are unspoiled by light pollution.
OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory is the first designated Dark Sky Place in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of certified regions across the island to 3.
"This is a unique development in a truly special place, with an ancient landscape, amazing archaeology, including Beaghmore Stone Circles which is considered by some to have been the first observatory on this land, all under the darkest of skies with unrivalled views of the galaxy," said Cathal Mallaghan, Chair of Mid-Ulster District Council at the time of the observatory's opening.
"An amazing 80% of us live under ‘skyglow’, a sky which is illuminated mostly by artificial, polluting light.
"At Davagh, a natural cauldron in an ancient landscape, the skies are at their darkest and you can experience unrivalled and wondrous views of the night sky which makes it perfect for star-gazing."
"This opening is a milestone in our strategy to build a strong, sustainable tourism offering in the Sperrins, which showcases the region’s stunning landscapes and its history and heritage.
"It represents a substantial investment and there is more to come as we work towards new solar and archaeological walking trails, as well as enhanced mountain biking routes."
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.