James Webb – First Fully Aligned Image

Fine phasing of James Webb’s honeycomb mirror segments is now complete, revealing this first fully aligned image of star 2MASS J17554042+6551277 via the telescope’s NIRCam sensor.

This test image has exceeded NASAs expectations in terms of resolving power and clarity. You can even see well defined distant spiral galaxies in the background.

Unlike the Hubble space telescope the wavelengths of light gathered here is around 2 microns, within the infrared band of the electromagnetic spectrum (the region Webb has been designed to observe). These are wavelengths longer than the human eye can detect but ideal for revealing the evolutionary structure and morphology of stars and distant galaxies.

The Webb team will now continue with calibration of the on-board spectrographs, completing the full scientific instrument setup.

This process is expected to take several more months, but so far so good.

Tales of the Moon with Catherine Heymans

Stargazing and Moon Observing with Scotland’s Astronomer Royal Catherine Heymans.

Join me up at Abriachan Forest (a Dark Sky Discovery site) for an evening of stargazing, Moon observing and astronomy with our special guest Scotland’s astronomer royal Catherine Heymans.

If skies are clear Catherine and local astronomer Stephen Mackintosh will host an outdoor Moon observing session with binoculars and telescope. Following this Catherine will present her indoor guest talk titled “Do Look up! Space Rocks and Killer Asteroids”

Refreshments provided plus binoculars for stargazing. Under 16s with accompanying adults go free. 

Catherine Heymans is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland and Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at the Ruhr-University Bochum. She is an experienced science communicator, visiting schools across Scotland, in addition to art, music, comedy, philosophy and science festivals.

Tickets are available via Eventbrite or my Facebook page.

James Webb First Light

Here is the first ever image processed from the James Webb space telescope’s primary mirror. It shows copies of a distant star HD 84406, individually imaged through Webb’s 18 honey-comb like mirror segments.

This is part of the primary mirror alignment phase. A bit like the process backyard observers go through when we collimate our telescopes.

Over the next several weeks these individual points will converge to form a single image of the star, completing the alignment process and ensuring all components of the 6.5 meter primary mirror are working as one.

You can see the gold plated hexagonal components of the primary mirror in this second picture, which is a selfie the telescope took of its main mirror from outer space.

The astrophysical community awaits Webb’s first active mission pictures which I understand will be images of three of the largest low-albedo asteroids, as well as Jupiter’s red spot and Neptune’s southern polar vortex.

Tales of Dark Matter

All the light we see from distant stars and galaxies is made from visible matter, yet evidence from the rotational speeds of other galaxies suggests dark matter outweighs visible matter on a ratio six to one. Image: ‘Our galaxy Over Achnasheen’, Stephen Mackintosh

Join me up at Abriachan Forest (a Dark Sky Discovery site) for an evening of stargazing and astronomy on February 25th with our first guest speaker of the 2022 season – Professor Martin Hendry.

If skies are clear Martin and myself will host an outdoor stargazing session, discussion and Q&A under the stars. Following this Martin will present his indoor guest talk on the very latest discoveries in cosmology, concentrating on the elusive nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Refreshments provided plus binoculars for stargazing. Under 16s with accompanying adults go free. Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite here or you can reserve directly from my Facebook page here.

Martin speaking at the Science on Stage Festival

Martin Hendry is Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow and is a passionate advocate for STEM education and science engagement with schools and public audiences. He is the author of more than 200 scientific articles and is a senior member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the global team of more than 1400 scientists which made the first-ever detection of gravitational waves – a discovery awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics. Martin is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is currently a Trustee of the IOP and the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation. In 2015 he was awarded an MBE for services to the public understanding of science.

January 2022 Star Stories at Abriachan Forest

The brilliant stars of Orion shining down over Abriachan Forest.

Many thanks to everyone who made it up to Abriachan Forest for our Burns stargazing event on Saturday. Big thanks to Jim for his excellent Haggis address and the Abriachan team for the delicious Burns supper fare.

Skies were a little patchy but we did see good naked eye views towards the south and the main focus of the evening talk – the mighty Orion constellation.

After observing Orion we headed inside to explore some of the amazing deep sky objects hidden within this giant of the night sky, like the beautiful Horsehead and Flame nebulae, part of the enormous star forming Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

This region contains areas of dark, emissive and reflection nebulosity, with hot young stars blasting intense radiation into the hydrogen clouds producing the distinctive red areas due to ionisation.

At this scale the extent of our solar system (out to Neptune) would be one 10,000th of the width of the picture you see below on the right – less than a single pixel element within the image!

The Horsehead nebula sits close to the left most belt star in Orion, Almitak

Ticket links will go up very shortly for our February and March guest speaker Star Stories events with Martin Hendry and Catherine Heymans. I hope to see you all there.

Dark Sky Burns 2022

Starry skies over Abriachan Forest

On Saturday the 29th January, join me up at Abriachan Forest (a Dark Sky Discovery site) for an evening of stargazing and astronomy with a Burns night twist

If conditions are clear I’ll be guiding you under the Milky Way class dark skies of Abriachan Forest (with a backup astronomy presentation if clouds roll in).

Meanwhile the Abriachan team will host an outdoor Tam’s Trail to find signs of Meg and a cutty sark! Plus Haggis hand warmers and refreshments for a simple Burn’s supper fare.

Booking in advance via Eventbrite is essential due to site capacity. Ticket links here.

2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Dates

Please see confirmed dates for my stargazing tours next February for the 2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. I hope to be hosting a walk and talk under the stars from each location with an indoor fallback in the event of poor weather (so please book with confidence). Ticket links below:

“Astronomer Stephen Mackintosh will host stargazing events at Calanais Standing Stones and Visitor CentreScaladale Centre and Grinneabhat (Bragar and Arnol Community Trust) as part of the 2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. #hebdarkskies

Tickets are on sale now – book here:
Calanais, 17 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-calanais/
Grinneabhat, 18 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-grinneabhat/
Scaladale, 19 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-scaladale…/

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival runs from 11-25 February. Look out for lots more programme announcements in the next few days – and for our printed festival programme, available at An Lanntair and across the island from next week! Full listings at https://lanntair.com/events/category/dark-skies/

#hebdarkskies is supported by CalMac FerriesHighlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Culture Business Fund Scotland, in partnership with Lews Castle College UHIGallan Head Community TrustCalanais Standing Stones and Visitor Centre and Stornoway Astronomical Society.”