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.

Star Stories 2021 launch October 31st

I’m very happy to announce the launch of the 2021 Star Stories astronomy programme up at Abriachan Forest on October 30th.

If it’s clear I look forward to guiding you under Abriachan’s Milky Way class dark skies. Otherwise I’ll present an indoor talk on the naked eye planets, covering their observational history right up to the advent of modern astronomy.

Meanwhile the Abriachan team will host an outdoor walk and talk about Bats. A creature of darkness so very appropriate for our first dark sky astronomy event.

Tickets will go on sale September 30th. Please follow my Facebook page for the latest.

Moon Formation

Modelling suggests the Earth came very close to having a pair of smaller Moons.

According to simulations by Canup and Ida (2014) the Earth came very close to hosting two smaller Moon’s (right) rather than the large single Moon we ended up with (left).

This fascinating ‘what if’ modelling is based on the giant impact hypothesis. A faster rate of rotation of the post impact disk is the main requirement for a two Moon system to take hold.

Of course multiple moon system are very common. Saturn for example has an abundance of them, with the most recent count totalling 82 orbiting bodies.

Colour Image: Artist’s impression of an alien world with two moons by Angela Harburn.

Mercury and Maximum Elongation

I hope you enjoy this short video about the planet Mercury, which you can currently see during late evening, low on the NW horizon. Mercury is also approaching its maximum evening elongation on the 17th May.

Joining me once again is Steve Owens, astronomer at Glasgow Science Centre and author of Stargazing For Dummies.

In this video podcast we discuss:

1. Tips for observing Mercury safely.

2. Mercury’s phases.

3. The surface geology of Mercury and how this reveals tantalising hints about its history and formation.

Stargazing Guide to April Skies

This took way more time than I anticipated to edit but it was great fun putting together with my friend Steve Owens. I hope you enjoy this more conversational style look at the stars.

It’s a good 30 minutes long so best grab yourself a brew or beverage of choice and get comfortable for this one.

Discussions in this episode include:

1. A farewell look at Orion and nearby stars and clusters

2. The crescent Moon in mid April

3. Planet Mars

4. Leo and the double star Algeiba

5. Northern skies and Polaris

6. The M81 and M82 galaxies

Happy April skywatching and stargazing!

Stargazing Looking North

If you live in mid northern latitudes there’s an undeniable familiarity to your night skies when facing north. One of the most prominent constellations is Ursa Major with its bright asterism known as The Plough, or Big Dipper. I call this collection of stars the Swiss Army Knife for stargazers, and for good reason. Please watch to find out why.

Music used with permission from Rising Galaxy (Cosmicleaf records, Greece)