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.

Galaxy Photobomb

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When an entire galaxy (faintly) photobombs your night sky picture!

I was sorting out some of my recent images from the west coast and spotted the Andromeda galaxy. That’s my camper van at the bottom looking west over the sea near Arasaig. Sky glow is from the recently set Sun.

That fuzzy elongated smudge I’ve highlighted is the combined light from over 400 billion stars. A completely separate island universe over 2.5 million light years away.

Here’s a few other pictures from this excursion posted below.

 

Stargazing at Roseisle

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Starry skies over the Moray coast

Amidst a very busy schedule last month I managed to head out to Roseisle (along the Moray coast) for some observing and a wild camp.  My original mission was to try and catch a geomagnetic storm predicted by the MET office space weather forecasts.  As it happened the promised aurora didn’t arrive but I did manage to get some photos of the starry skies that opened up on Saturday night, starting with the International Space Station.

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Not the most fantastic ISS shot but I only had about 20 seconds to set up after running down the dunes to capture the pass!.  The station is actually travelling from west to east here, towards Sirius (bright star on left)

From there I took a number of pictures hoping to capture some aurora, but instead imaging the crisp starry skies.  I’ll let the photos do the talking from here – please read the caption notes.

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This image of the Plough (minus Alkaid) was snapped while I was still under the trees, on my approach to the beach.  You can clearly see the naked eye double star Mizar-Alcor at the bottom of the image.  The main stars in the Plough are roughly 100 lights years away.  Our Sun would not be visible naked eye if placed this far away which tells us something about the scale and luminosity of these titan stars.

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Looking north towards Burghead where I hoped to capture some aurora.  Instead I picked up the rich star fields within the Milky Way near Cassiopeia.

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One of many passing satellites.

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An interesting shot looking north west.  The bright white light is the Portmahomack lighthouse and the orange light pollution on the right is likely from Helmsdale.  Perhaps the most interesting feature in this photo is the faint smudge of light in the top left.  That’s the Andromeda galaxy – a separate spiral galaxy (larger than our Milky Way) over 2.5 million light years away.

Dark Sky Observing at Abriachan

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A lovely crescent Moon hung in the West for most of the evening

We enjoyed another superb evening of stargazing and storytelling up at Abriachan Forest last Saturday – the last dark sky session until stargazing returns in October 2019.

There were beautiful crisp skies all evening long, allowing me to guide both groups outside for views of the Milky Way and numerous open star clusters like the Hyades, Pleiades, Beehive and the stunning double cluster in Perseus.

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Orion…of course

We also studied the Orion star forming nebula, the great spiral galaxy in Andromeda and some fainter galaxies in Ursa Major (M81 and M82), and even had a go at sighting the triplet of galaxies in Leo, which some of the keen eyed youngsters successfully glimpsed in the 8×40 binoculars.

Clelland was also back in action with the story of Arden and the birth of Merlin in the roundhouse.

Thanks to everyone who came along.  Please check my Facebook site for details of future summer events.

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Perseus and the double cluster

Star Stories Photography and Aurora Special

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The aurora over Ceannabeinne Beach on the north coast by photographer Graham Bradshaw

Despite the stormy conditions earlier in the evening, skies cleared up beautifully at Abriachan on Saturday night for Star Stories.

Graham Bradshaw of Graham Bradshaw Photography was our guest speaker, talking about his fascinating experiences hunting and photographing aurora in some of the wildest and remotest parts of the Scottish highlands.  His talk included practical advice on seeking out aurora in the north of Scotland (which is much more prevalent than you might think), as well as showing many beautiful still images and stunning time lapses captured all over the highlands and further afield.

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Photographer Graham Bradshaw

Meanwhile I took two groups out stargazing and managed about 20 minutes of clear skies during the first outing until we were rained off by a very brief shower.  After heading back inside I switched to my backup slide deck on the science of aurora, talking about how the differential rotation of stars causes kinks in their magnetic fields, ultimately leading to the coronal mass ejections that produce the aurora.

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I got a nice capture of the Andromeda galaxy over the forest classroom (left), and a passing satellite.  This giant galaxy is over 2.5 million lights years away just visible naked eye.  It looks even more impressive in binoculars.

By the time Graham had finished his first talk, skies had cleared again and my second group had a much longer excursion under the stars.

As usual we took in broad sweeps of the night sky with the wonderful agility of binocular observing, hitting targets like the Orion nebula, Hyades and Pleiades star clusters, the Andromeda galaxy, Beehive cluster as well as numerous bright and massive red and blue giant stars.  The Milky Way was also clearly on display, even with the presence of an enchanting crescent Moon hanging in the South West.  We also saw Mars sitting above the Moon and had a go at finding Uranus (currently observable in the same binocular field as Mars).

During both streams Suzann Barr did some video interviews with some of the younger stargazers who’ve become regulars at the events, and captured feedback on our Star Stories wall chart.  Overall it was another great evening with good feedback from participants.

Our next event in March will be the last dark sky observing session for this season as skies begin to brighten.  The theme for this event will be galaxies, and I’ll have a backup presentation prepared on this topic should skies prove unfavourable.  There’s only a few tickets left available on Eventbrite here.

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Another good catch in my camera, this time the Milky Way in the region of Perseus, with the double cluster clearly visible on the left.