November Star Stories

Stargazing next to the round house in Abriachan Forest

Thanks to everyone who braved the subzero temperatures up at Abriachan Forest last Saturday for Star Stories. Our guest storyteller John Burns delivered a captivating one man play and storytelling session up in the forest round house, and even succeeded in ushering out a few stars at the very end.

Afterwards the skies opened up beautifully and we had clear views of the Milky Way and many circumpolar constallations during our outdoor stargazing session. Special thanks to Gretchen for the Jupiter biscuits!

That’s a wrap for this year. Our next event will be the Dark Sky Burns at the end of January 2022 before our guest speaker events in February and March. You can read more details on the full programme here.

The Milky Way glowing through some light cloud and haze at Abriachan.

Star Stories Astronomy Guest Speakers

Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Catherine Haymens, will visit Abriachan Forest in March 2022.

I’m delighted to confirm our guest speakers for the 2022 Star Stories programme. Following a ‘Stargazing Burns’ event on January 27th we’ll have a dark sky event in February with guest speaker Martin Hendry, Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow. Martin is a regular visitor to the forest and will be updating us on the latest discoveries on dark matter and dark energy followed by naked eye and binocular stargazing under Abriachan’s Milky Way class dark skies.

Then in March we’re very excited to welcome Scotland’s new Astronomer Royal, Catherine Haymens. Catherine will be joining us on March 14th for a special Moon night with a talk all about the Moons of our solar system. This will be followed by a live Moon observing session and Q&A. Catherine is Professor of Astrophysics and a European Research Council Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at the Ruhr-University Bochum.

Where possible, and understandably, all events will be setup for outdoor learning so please bring plenty of warm clothes and wrap up. Storytelling and other family friendly activities will also be delivered by the Abriachan team and guests. Ticket links will go live about 4 weeks prior to each event. Please follow my Facebook page for the latest.

Meanwhile the November 27th event has now sold out. This will be a dark sky evening with stargazing or astronomy talk presented by yours truly. Best selling author John Burns is our guest storyteller in November.

2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

A fantastic programme of events is coming together for the 2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. I’m really looking forward to delivering stargazing experiences for the festival again, from various dark locations across the Hebrides. The festival programme is directed by Andrew Eaton-Lewis and is always wonderfully eclectic with The Sky At Night’s Chris Lintott rating it “A highlight of the last few years”.

Art, Music, Cinema and food frequently accompany the astronomy and stargazing components and more than this I think it’s just a great opportunity for a winter break under some of Scotland’s remotest and best dark skies.

You can read about my previous experiences at the festival from my 2020 and 2021 posts. This year I hope to once again present in person astronomy and stargazing from various dark places across the island.

You can read more about the 2022 programme on An Lanntair’s website here.

Strong Northern Lights

Here’s a slightly shaky camera image I took from my home in the west of Inverness late on Saturday night. This is the strongest I’ve seen the Aurora from suburban Inverness. The glow was clearly visible naked eye with a bright arc and scintillating movement over the Black Isle.

There’s some speculation this display was connected to a large CME that erupted from the Sun on Thursday. While this is possible events like this are notoriously hard to predict with huge uncertainty in the transit time and direction of these high energy particle ejections from our home star.

Northern lights are not as rare as people think, especially in northern Scotland. The main impediment to seeing them is the simple fact that many people spend the winter evenings indoors. If you go for regular extended walks away from city lights and can find a good vantage facing north your chances of seeing aurora will increase significantly.

Starry Skies for New Season of Star Stories

Thanks to everyone who came to Abriachan Forest on Saturday night. We had a fantastic opening event to kick off the 2021/22 Star Stories astronomy programme.

We enjoyed clear skies all evening and I was able to offer uninterrupted guiding of the whole night sky from north to south and east to west. Some of the highlights included:

– Views of Saturn and Jupiter low on the southern horizon, with telescopic views of Saturn’s majestic rings.

– A full power Milky Way glowing overhead from north to south with clear visibility of the dark lanes of obscuring galactic dust near the Cygnus Rift.

– Several bright meteors flashing past.

– The Pleiades open star cluster rising in the east followed by Taurus with the red giant Aldebaran.

– The Andromeda galaxy clearly visible naked eye and offering fantastic views in binoculars.

– Numerous bright stars and clusters.

Also a big thanks to the Abriachan team for the Bat walk + talk and Bat box workshop.

Tickets are now available for the next event on November 27th. Please follow my Highland Astronomy facebook page for the latest on tickets and events.

I managed a few pics at the end of the session inserted above (a little out of focus I’m afraid).

The Statistics of Large Space Rocks

Jupiter was recently hit by a giant space rock and astronomer @jose.luis_pereira (Instagram) was lucky enough to capture the impact in this incredible footage.

Encounters like this always remind me of our relative fragility on planet Earth. Although Jupiter’s gravity protects us from more frequent large impacts, there’s an inevitability when it comes to future encounters with big space rocks. You need only glance up at the Moon for clear evidence of this destructive heritage.

The statistics of space rock encounters are both reassuring (in terms of long timescales) but also gravely concerning (in terms of raw destructive power).

On average, every few hundred years, the Earth is hit by an object some 30-60 meters in diameter. Such an impact generates enough energy to devastate an entire city if the final shockwave is concentrated in the right position and direction. The 2013 Chelyabinsk and 1908 Tunguska events are recent example of such encounters.

Then every 10,000 years we’re hit by a 200-500 meter wide object, large enough to trigger short term but significant climate changes, potentially lowering global temperatures and disrupting crop growth and finely balanced ecological systems.

Then every million years a 2-4 kilometer wide impact can occur, releasing energy equivalent to the explosive output of every nuclear weapon on the planet!

Finally on a hundred million year timescale Earth can be visited by something like the Chicxulub event that wiped out the dinosaurs, an object some 10-20 kilometres across. That’s enough destructive power to wipe out vast swathes of life across the entire planet.

As a species we’re only a few million years old and our recorded history takes us back a paltry 10,000 years. It makes you wonder therefore, what unrecorded and long forgotten destructive encounters our distant ancestors experienced and survived? Or is our species yet to be challenged by any of the bigger impacts mentioned above?