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.
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.
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.
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.
One of many passing satellites.
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.
The formation of a young protostar following the collapse of a previously inert dust cloud
We had a great turnout for March’s Urban Astronomy session last week at the Sea Cadet’s Hall in Inverness. The indoor presentation massively benefited from our new giant screen, expertly erected by Robbie (pictured below). Here’s a selection of slides from my presentation on naked eye observing and the life of giant stars.
Robbie putting the final touches to our new giant screen for indoor astronomy presentations and virtual sky guiding
– Naked eye and binocular observing
– Satellites: Iridium Flares and ISS
– Colour, temperature and mass of stars
– The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
– Protostar formation from dark nebulae
– Main sequence burning and final fate of stars
– White dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars and black holes.
As ever there were some superb questions during and after the talk. Stay tuned for upcoming events as myself and Caroline roll out the program.
In the simplest terms stars behave like black body radiators with colour linked to their surface temperatures.
The brightest stars in the night sky can be close – like Sirius – or giant stars very far away (eg. Betelgeuse, Rigel, Deneb).
The HR diagram. An elegant and reliable tool for describing the evolution of stars from main sequence burning into their final stages of life
Another video guide – this time centred on the constellation Leo, the guardian of Spring skies in the northern hemisphere. Did you know about the beautiful double star in the Sickle called Algieba? Or the dwarf galaxy visible next to Regulus under the darkest skies?
With special thank to Random Records and artist Kanc Cover for the background music.
Face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6814
I’m looking forward to presenting another astronomy talk for the 2019 Inverness Science Festival. Talk details below:
Astronomer Stephen Mackintosh from Highland Astronomy will take you on a journey through space and time, looking at the massive stellar structures that make up the observable universe – Galaxies.
How did we discover them, how many are there and what do they tell us about the immense scale and dynamics of the universe?
Plus tips and advice on observing galaxies and other faint deep sky objects for yourself.
Time: 7pm – 8pm, 8th May 2019
Venue: Main Lecture Theatre, UHI Campus
Booking links: Eventbrite
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.
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.
Perseus and the double cluster
Part 3 of my series of Stargazing articles for the Muir Matters magazine, this time concentrating on the abundance of galaxies observable within the Spring constellations Leo and Virgo.
I hope you enjoy this video I’ve put together highlighting some of the most mesmerising images of planetary nebulae captured by the Hubble space telescope.
“Planetary Nebulae are some of the most eerily beautiful objects in the universe. But what are they and how do they form?”
With thanks to Robert Hundt at Glitchy.Tonic.Records for accompanying musical score.
Image credits: NASA / Hubble.