The Plough asterism, part of Ursa Major
I had the privilege of visiting Snowdonia this summer for a family camp in a beautiful river valley near Maentwrog. During the evenings I managed a bit of stargazing before moonrise and captured a few bright constellations over the Welsh hills.
Cassiopeia over the Welsh hills
I also captured a lovely close pairing between the Moon and the planet Jupiter.
Jupiter sits serenely below the waxing gibbous Moon
The highlight, however, was witnessing a beautiful partial eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday evening at around 11pm.
I took these pictures and a short video using my smartphone anchored to a simple pair of 8×40 binoculars (mounted for stability). The eclipse was already underway when the Moon rose into view and continued until well after midnight.
A basic pair of 8x40mm binoculars lets you access around 500,000 stars
Many people think astronomy is a complicated or technical activity. While it can be, it very definitely doesn’t need to be. Over 90% of my observing is done with a simple pair of binoculars, like these light and inexpensive 8x40s, which I try to carry with me wherever I go on local walks or further afield.
With these I can access stunning images of the Moon, resolve the satellites of Jupiter, sweep through over 500,000 stars (most too dim to see naked eye), resolve glittering star clusters like the Pleiades and Hyades, and (under suitably dark skies) view the dim light from galaxies many millions of light years away.
Marry the binoculars with a small tripod and a night sky app on your phone and you have everything your need for agile observing during clear skies or brief opportune breaks in the weather.
Going to Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival this year? I’ll be delivering stargazing sessions from 11pm on Friday and Saturday night. Backup for cloudy skies will be an interactive stargazing talk with planetarium software.
I’ll post up full session details and festival meeting points soon.
Festival details: https://tartanheartfestival.co.uk
The surface of Mars, image credit NASA
I’m very happy to be partnering with Skills Development Scotland and the Science Skills Academy to deliver day 2 of the ‘Destination Mars’ three day programme for S1 and S2 pupils in Thurso’s recently built Newton Room (22nd – 24th July).
On day 2 I’ll be exploring Mars impact geology, the solar system, night sky tours and a workshop on optics and spectroscopy.
Full programme details and registration details in the link below:
Video from the shores of Bunchrew looking over Ben Wyvis, panning from the north west to north east
The sunsets in the Highlands of Scotland are some of the best in the world when conditions are right, especially around the solstice when the setting Sun grazes just 8 degree below the northern horizon producing mesmerising night long sky glow.
On June 22nd I camped out at the Bunchrew shoreline with my daughter Violet and managed to capture some video and still images of the sunset looking north towards Ben Wyvis. Footage captured around 10.45pm.
Solstice celebrations up at Abriachan tonight. We had a nature walk and talk up to the Shieling above Loch Ness, with Suzann, Christine and Clelland imparting plant and flower lore at various points up the trail. From the top we learnt all about Shieling life, dairying and got to sample some simple crofting fare.
I then presented a short talk on the Solstice and its astronomical significance, culminating in a human henge to illustrate the changing seasons, rising and setting Sun points and how the ancient Celtic people marked off their Wheel of Time.
We just managed to catch a lovely sunset from the top of the hill before making the trek back down.
The Star Stories events will be resuming in October with another event in collaboration with the Highland Archaeology Festival. Look out for programme details as they emerge.
Happy Solstice! Official time off the solstice today is at 3.54pm GMT when the north pole of the earth is maximally inclined towards the Sun.
In the north of Scotland we currently experience over 18 hours of daylight and no true night at all, as the Sun dips a mere -8 degrees below the horizon at its lowest point at 1.20am.
Official sunset time today is 22.20pm when the Sun will be at its greatest setting extremity towards the North. This is where the term Solstice comes from, Sol -Sistere, or Sun Standstill. The point when the Sun reaches its maximum declination in the sky or its furthest rising and setting points north of east and west on the horizon.
The situation is reversed for out friends in the Southern hemisphere of the planet who are currently marking the winter solstice.
Clear skies if you head out to take in the setting Sun!