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Fieldwork under the ‘Darkest sky’

In a continuing effort to make my activities more sustainable and portable, I decided to cycle from Penrith to a remote location in the heart of the North Pennines which boasts the darkest skies in the UK. I was one of the most hellish bike rides I have ever endured. And I am no stranger to big hilly bike rides.

I was invited by Annie Carpenter and Nicola Ellis to Allenhead Arts for a few days of art and science during the night of the Orionids meteor shower, hoping for clear yet dark skies. They had been resident artists there over the last few months https://www.acart.org.uk/ .

One of my typical problems when taking part in this kind of open-ended participatory creative gathering is just taking too much kit. Cycling helps keep things minimal. I took a portable microscope, collecting equipment, Petri dishes and bags. And a retrieval magnet. With is we could hunt for Tardigrades and also attempt to collect micrometeorites.

I had exactly 3 hours to make it up to the top of the North Pennine before nightfall. A 35mile ride up 3500ft climbing is normally an average weekend ride for me. However, lugging 30kg of kit up those hills was hellish. 10 miles in I was finished, still knowing the worst was yet to come. Looking ahead at a dark looming hill scape I began to wish I had got a lift.  It was an incredibly bleak ride.

Grey darkening skies seemed to chase me [at least it was a back wind] In retrospect I could have dropped the wine, many times I was tempted to leave it behind for some lucky hill walker. But I just thought of the experience as good training.

[we found a clay hole and made stuff directly from the ground.]

[Our experience of the Orionids Meteor shower was spoilt my thick mist and cloud. It felt more like we were actually in the cloud. With the occasional break revealing the stunningly bright stars. We managed to see several shooting stars in this short time.]

We set up a huge tarp to collect any materials falling from the sky overnight. The next day we washed this down with water and collected the magnetic particles…

And after some time searching I found several objects which looked like the could be micrometeorites….

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