In 2016, 1851 Special Awardee–The South Downs National Park–became the world’s latest International Dark Sky Reserve, with 66% of the Park having Bronze Level Skies. The South Downs Dark Night Skies Festival has since developed into not only celebrating this designation but helping people experience the joy of witnessing and understanding dark night skies.
Advances in Virtual Reality technology furnished those attending the event, on a cloudy night or in areas suffering from light pollution, with the opportunity to virtually experience a true dark night sky, inspiring them to go out and seek the real thing.
The Commission helped support the introduction of a VR experience during the 2019 South Downs Dark Skies Festival, which had a record engagement of over 4,500 people. The VR experience was used frequently throughout the 2019 events season, including school science events such as STEMfests and the majority of the National Park’s other indoor and outdoor events. Moreover, the VR Tour has been taken to the urban edges of the Park, where light pollution makes it impossible to see the Milky Way. It has proved universally popular and will continue to be used throughout 2020 and beyond.