THE annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival kicks off on Friday (October 13) with astrophysicist and cosmologist Professor Roger Davies, from Oxford University, presenting an astronomy lecture, and Dan James, of Exmoor National Park Authority, inspiring people to visit the area for breathtaking stargazing experiences.

National park rural enterprise manager Mt James said: “Professor Davies is a huge fan of Exmoor and we are delighted that he is coming again this year to share his passion and expertise with the public.”

Professor Davies, who is president of the European Astronomical Society, will front an event on Friday in Petroc College, Tiverton, followed on Saturday evening by a second event in Porlock Wier Hotel.

His research interests centre on cosmology and how galaxies form and evolve and he has a longstanding interest in astronomical instruments and telescopes.

In recent years, Professor Davies has pioneered the use of a new class of astronomical spectrograph to measure the masses and ages of galaxies, as well as search for black holes in their nuclei.

Mr James will open Friday’s dark skies festival launch event in Petroc College by talking about Exmoor’s official designation as Europe’s first ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ and how to experience it.

As well as talking about awe-inspiring dark sky activities such as the ‘Dark Sky Discovery Trail’, the audience will each be given a free copy of a new Exmoor Dark Skies Pocket Guide containing hints and tips on the best locations to stargaze in the national park and what to look for in the night sky.

Professor Davies will deliver the main presentation, focusing on ideas about galaxies and stars.

He will illustrate how recent discoveries have revealed how the chemical elements, from which everybody is made, are produced in stars, and what the thousands of planets around stars beyond the solar system are made of.

Professor Davies will also share his thoughts on the chances that there is life on one of these planets, using the latest results from the James Webb Space Telescope.

There will also be an opportunity to ask questions.

Festival organiser Katrina Munro said: “We always try to include events at different venues around the national park to help us reach new audiences.

“It is important that everybody learns how special Exmoor’s dark skies are and how we can all help to protect them by keeping light pollution to a minimum.

“We are also bringing a huge mobile planetarium to Tiverton on October 17 and Dunster on October 21.

“The fully immersive sessions offer a spectacular 360-degree 3D digital dome experience which are a great way to learn about the skies above us and the universe and are suitable for all ages.”

The festival also has events in the Exmoor dark sky discovery hubs in the Poltimore Inn, North Molton, and Wimbleball Lake, where there is also a nine-mile moonlit walk raising funds for the park authority’s CareMoor charity, South West Lakes Trust, and Exmoor Search and Rescue.

Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, which is sponsored by Airband, runs from October 13 to 29 and has more than 60 events across the national park.

Information about all of the festival events can be found on its website here or by picking up a programme from any National Park Centre or from Tiverton Museum.