Hebridean Tour Dates

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Who’s Steve by Casey McIntyre

Dates are now up for my night sky shows at the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival.  Depending on sky conditions these will be a mixture of indoor talks and outdoor stargazing under some of the best dark skies in Europe.

Performances and times:

– Kinloch Community Hub, Ballalan, Monday 17 February, 6.30pm
– Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (CEN), Ness, Tuesday 18 February, 7pm
– The Edge Café, Gallan Head, Aird Uig, Wednesday 19 February, 8pm

Tickets: lanntair.com / Call 01851 708 480

You can review the full Hebridean Dark Sky Festival programme here.

Dark Skies at Torridon

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The Milky Way over the grounds of the Torridon Resort

I’ve had some fantastic excursions out to the Torridon Resort recently, where I deliver outreach astronomy and stargazing for guests at the hotel.

Weather can be unpredictable this far west but when conditions open up the skies are undoubtably some of the darkest in Scotland, easily surpassing the darkness levels over the Cairngorms, which are still hindered by skyglow from the populated Moray coast.  This far west there’s almost no skyglow and inky black skies allow amazing views of the Milky Way and deep sky objects like the Andromeda galaxy, open star clusters and faint nebulae.

In addition to hosting several stargazing dinners I was also involved in some filming with the BBC up at the Torridon and look forward to seeing if the starry sky sequences make the final cut.

If you’d like to treat yourself or a loved one to a special stargazing experience please see the details here on the Torridon’s website.  Meanwhile, enjoy some recent pictures I took from the hotel grounds and nearby Achnasheen.

Ladd Observatory in Providence, Rhode Island

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The historic Ladd Observatory situated on College Hill, Providence Rhode Island

During a trip to Rhode Island I had the pleasure of visiting the historic Ladd Observatory on October 16th to look through their 128 year old (12 inch) refracting telescope.

All the optics and gravity driven clock drive are unchanged since the observatory was built in 1891. The same level of preservation applies to the building, which feels like stepping back into the 19th century.

With clear skies during my visit I had the opportunity to gaze at Saturn.  The contrast and views of Saturn through this instrument were amazing. An obvious Cassini division with clear shadowing and storm bands on Saturn’s globe, plus several of the brightest moons were clearly visible.

In addition to the main telescope the observatory has several rooms with photographic slides and exhibits preserved from yesteryear.  One function of the observatory was that of precise timekeeping and signaling using known transit and occultation times for the Moon, planets and bright stars close to the ecliptic. A fascinating array of transit telescopes, pendulum clocks, and chronometers are testament to this previous function.

The observatory would wire calibration signals to the Providence fire service and several other important businesses, allowing clocks to be fine tuned for accuracy.  This practice continued up to the 1970s.

Please enjoy some of the images I snapped from my visit below.

 

Abriachan Henge Progress and Star Stories Kickoff

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The main henge posts are now in place.  Markers and smaller posts for the Celtic cross quarter days still to be added.

More progress on the wood henge and Celtic calendar up at Abriachan Forest, with the main posts for the meridian, equinoxes and solstice rise and set positions now in place.

Not quite finished yet. Abriachan plan to sow seeds for next few weeks and let the ground within the perimeter settle.

Descriptive marks for the main posts and small posts for the Celtic Cross Quarter days Imbolc, Lammas, Samhain and Beltane will be added later.

In addition to tracking the Sun and measuring the solar year, we can use the henge during the stargazing programme to record the rising of new seasonal constellations in the East and rough measurements of the transit altitudes (due south) and azimuth positions of the stars.

We also had a great kick off to the Star Stories program last night with ancient astronomy learning, storytelling and activities for the young ones.

The next event will be Nov 23rd with guest astronomer and author Steve Owens (aka Dark Sky Man). Booking links will go up shortly.

 

Hebridean Dark Sky Festival

I’ll be touring the outer Hebrides delivering outdoor stargazing as part of the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival 2020. The festival is a fantastic reason to visit the isles during the winter months and appreciate their world class dark skies.  Organisers An Lanntair  have put a fantastic programme together spanning music, art, theatre and stargazing.

Details of my own route and outreach locations for stargazing will be published soon so stay tuned.  For full festival details and some early booking links please visit the festival website.

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Saturn’s Rings

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One of the most stunning images ever take of Saturn by the Cassini space probe – the planet backlit by the distant Sun, with the normally faint E ring glowing in a blue halo of light.

At the kick off for the new Merkinch Nature Reserve astronomy programme tonight, I got to talk about one of my favourite planets of all time – Saturn and its mind blowing ring system.

The dynamics of the rings are so subtle and complex. Some of the gaps in the rings are made by moonlets clearing paths, whilst other moons are actually replenishing the rings.

The small moon Enceladus is a fascinating example. It’s spewing out frozen ice from its south pole due to tidal heating, effectively generating Saturn’s faint E ring (the faint blue outer ring pictured above).

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Enceladus, a small icy Moon with a salty internal ocean.  Tidal stresses imparted by Saturn produce great jets of water from the southern pole of Enceladus, which instantly freeze, adding icy material to Saturn’s E ring.

You could sit on a moonlet of Saturn and watch the rings forming little wavelets in real time around you. Some of the larger rings actually wash back and forth like waves on a giant ocean.

Many of the smaller moonless orbiting Saturn have a polished or smooth aspect to them. This is due to fine particulates from the rings being drawn towards them due to gravity, effectively power coating the surface and covering over any craters or blemishes.  This accretion of material onto the moons has been imaged by Cassini.

We had great turnout for the kickoff.  The next event is a Moon special on Nov 7th.  Look out for eventbrite links here on on my Facebook page.

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The tiny moon Pan, clearing a path through Saturn’s rings.  Its gravity is strong enough to produce beautiful ripples within the rings.  As it orbits, Pan receives a fine power coating of frozen dust from the rings lending the moonlet a smooth, polished appearance.

 

Milky Way Over Loch Morlich

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ISS cuts through the glowing band of the Milky Way, reflected in the waters of Loch Morlich in the Scottish Cairngorms

I enjoyed a pre equinox wild camp beside Loch Morlich last night. Amazing dark skies with the Milky Way bright enough to be faintly reflected on the loch’s surface.

Saturn and Jupiter shone in the early twilight before ISS made an appearance after 9pm, cutting through the bright band of the Milky Way.

Later still the Moon rose spectrally above the hills looking east, lighting up the loch like a beacon.

Happy equinox when it comes. Official time is Monday 23rd September at 8.50am.  Click below for more pictures.