Sharpham Stories - Night-Sky Delights
Published: 09 September 2019
Daphne Pleace writes stories about Sharpham - here she contemplates the night sky
The delights of the night sky
Do bats hang upside down? Will they get in your hair? Do planets twinkle? Are all the stars you can see now actually dead? Is there life after Sharpham’s Bat and Stargazing event?
The answer to those questions - as with so many others in life! - is ‘it depends’.
The last one first: I had such a wonderful time at this once-a-year opportunity to experience Sharpham’s bat life (in association with Devon Wildlife Trust’s Greater Horseshoe Bat Project) and to see Jupiter, Saturn - and myriad other night-sky delights (in conjunction with Dartmoor Skies), that I wonder if my life can ever be the same again. My night-life anyway.
There is a phrase liminal space often used in psychological contexts to describe a time of not knowing, of feeling out of everyday existence… a neither-one-thing-or-another space. Well, I occupied that space last evening - no longer the day, not yet properly the night - flying with bats and soaring to the stars. Well, almost...
Some eighteen or so of us stood in the grounds at Sharpham House and gazed into the darkening sky; at first, to watch bats emerging from their roost to go about their night’s feeding business. A little later, as the stars and planets became visible, we took turns to look at several of those celestial bodies through an astronomical telescope. I felt I was existing out of normal boundaries and time… this curious feeling of liminality I often experience when out in nature, though stronger on this occasion, perhaps because of the darkness.
And apart from a couple of small children, no doubt excited to be up late and outside - out of their boundaries and time - the rest of the group were subdued too. Subdued in a positive way that is: tuning in to the squeaks, pops and pips on the bat detectors and watching the bats darting overhead; or listening to Rob’s quiet voice as he pointed his Star Wars Super Laser Light (other magic wands are available) high into the dark velvet canopy above us and named the stars and planets we could see, all those light years away. And answering the fourth question: depending on just how many light years away, the stars you can see with the naked eye are probably still alive.
“Weird, isn’t it?” one of the group whispered to me. “I’m hardly ever outdoors at night, and when I am, I’m just walking quickly to wherever I’m going. Not looking at anything. And anyway, it’s usually brightly lit everywhere.”
Indeed. Light pollution is a dreadful thing. But not at Sharpham, which is one reason why several species of bat love it so much. And, first question, two of those species - the Lesser and Greater Horseshoes (pictured right) - are the only UK bats which hang upside down. A fact which surprised me: I thought it was part of the bat job description to hang upside down. Though I did know it’s really only part of Hollywood’s Halloween that bats get in your hair…unless of course you are hosting some particularly tasty insects in your tresses.
And, third question, the nursery rhyme says “twinkle twinkle little star” (though astronomers would say “scintillate scintillate little star”) because, generally, stars are further away than the planets we can see. But…
I said it depends… if the planet is low in the sky, then you are looking at it through more atmospheric disturbance, so it might appear more twinkly. For more information about the process of scintillation, look here
And where do I look for information for my next Liminal Night Out…? My life may depend on it.
Find out about Sharpham events here: www.sharphamtrust.org/events
Daphne is a volunteer story-teller for the Sharpham Trust. She blogs at www.daphnepleace.co.uk/blog
Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat picture courtesy of Hugh Clark/Devon Bat Project