New Star Stories Events and Speakers

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The winter Star Stories programme at Abriachan Forest is really coming together with loads of exciting talks and observing opportunities to look forward to in the months ahead. Booking links will be added as the Eventbrites go up:

12th October – Neolithic Stargazing – Dark sky observing, storytelling and talk on ancient stargazing from Stephen Mackintosh – EVENT SOLD OUT.
Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/neolithic-stargazing-tickets…

16th November – Leonids Meteor Shower Special – With guest speaker Dr Anthony Luke, Lecturer of Natural and Applied Science at UHI, giving a talk on the chemistry of stars, meteors and comets. 60% of tickets already allocated.
Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stargazing-leonid-meteor-sho…

5th December – Evening with Professor Martin Hendry – A special guest talk from Martin Hendry, Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at Glasgow University, entitled “Exploring the Dark Side of the Universe”
Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/star-stories-with-martin-hendry-tickets-49979041659

21st December – Winter Solstice Special – Mark the shortest day under a full moon with an evening of moon and bright star observing and a talk on the winter solstice from astronomer Stephen Mackintosh.
Eventbrite: please check back

12th January – Audience with Dark Sky Man – Observing under a crescent Moon with guest talk from author of Stargazing For Dummies and On Tour Manager of the Glasgow Science Centre, Steve Owens.
Eventbrite: please check back

9th February – Dark sky observing and Photography special – With guest speaker Graham Bradshaw of Graham Bradshaw Photography. Graham is a local photographer who has taken some stunning landscape, aurora and night sky photos. Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/star-stories-photography-special-tickets-49979762816

27th April – TBC

All evenings will include indoor and outdoor learning opportunities with Clelland, Suzann, Ronnie and the rest of the Abriachan team. Please check eventbrite links for full details.  More events, details and ticket links will appear on my Facebook site here.

STFC Support for Astronomy Outreach

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I received some fantastic news this week. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are supporting our continued programme of astronomy outreach at Abriachan Forest Trust, via a SPARK award.  The news was published in the BBC Highlands & Islands website here.

STFC council members were impressed with the successful pilot events delivered over the winter, bringing together astronomy, science and culture through the medium of stargazing and storytelling.

The released funds will be invested in observing equipment, landscape astronomy props, and transportation costs to help families without vehicles access future events.  They will also help us deliver another 12 events out at Abriachan over the next year and into 2019.

I’d like to personally thank the following individuals for their formal letters of support on the bid:

Suzann Barr – Learning Coordinator at Abriachan Forest Trust

Martin Hendry – Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics & Cosmology and Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Glasgow

Steve Owens – Dark Sky Consultant and Author of Stargazing for Dummies.

Elizabeth Barron-Majerik – Project Development Manager, School of Forestry, Science, Maths and Aquaculture, UHI

But most of all thanks to everyone who have attended the Abriachan stargazing sessions so far, during clear and wild weather.   Keep a look out for the future list of events.

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Astronomy Guiding at Scapa Festival

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I had a fun two days of astronomy guiding at the newly launched Scapa yoga festival near Loch Fyne.  One of the perks for the job was a family ticket for the festival so I decided to take the camper van and family along too.

The drive from Inverness was pretty arduous, but when we arrived it was a lovely setting and ended up being one of the most peaceful and chilled out festivals we’ve been to.  Numbers were kept at reasonable levels so that toilets and open spaces were jostle free and relaxing.

The astronomy work ran for two days late in the evening and was in partnership with the Wild Things! group.  The original plan was for a late night constellation walk to the beach but as the clouds rolled in we instead elected for an atmospheric campfire, with a general discussion about the stars.

This format worked out very well with lots of interested folk dropping in to participate in what became a very vibrant Q & A, covering topics as far reaching as star navigation, astrology, shooting stars, black holes and stellar evolution.  On the Saturday evening some people stayed for the whole two hours, transfixed by the discussions.  Astronomy is a subject with the power to transport people back into a state of childhood wonder!  It’s undoubtably the most accessible and mind-blowing of all the sciences.

By all accounts the festival was a great success and I wish the organisers lots of luck with Scapa 2019.

Wild Astronomy – Inverness Science Festival

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I’ll be giving a public lecture at the Inverness Science Festival on May 11th 2018.  I’d love to use some images from local astro photographers, particularly night sky photos taken in the Highlands or north of Scotland.  If you’d like your images used I’ll fully credit you in the talk.  Please PM me for details.

Talk Title: Wild Astronomy

Description: The Highlands of Scotland have some of the darkest skies in Europe but how often do we escape our back gardens and ‘get out there’ to appreciate the night sky?

In this talk astronomer Stephen Mackintosh discusses what makes our Highland skies so special, the sights and objects we should look for, and how a backpack and a pair of binoculars is all you really need to open up the wonders of the night sky.

Time and Location:  May 11th, 7-8pm at University of the Highlands and Islands STEM Hub, An Lòchran, Inverness Campus, Inverness

The Crab Nebula

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In 1054AD Chinese astronomers recorded a bright new star suddenly appear in the constellation Taurus the bull. It brilliantly out shone all other stars and was visible in broad daylight. After a year or so its light faded and it vanished.

The event was a supernova explosion – the dramatic explosion of a massive star. Today we can see the remnants left behind from this violent event – the Crab Nebula. An expanding shockwave of recycled stellar material. The above amazing image is from the Hubble space telescope.

You can see the Crab Nebula in a modestly sized amateur telescope, and as always the darker the skies the more detail you’ll see.  With a 150mm scope or larger you should be able to trace out the overall mottled shape of the nebula.  Use averted vision and see if you can pick out extra detail and structure.

Finding the Crab is relatively straightforward as it sits just beside the lowest horn of the constellation Taurus the bull, which sits above and right of Orion during evening skies at the moment.

 

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Next Abriachan Astronomy Dates

I’m excited to be hosting two more astronomy events alongside the Abriachan forest team in March and April 2018.  Details and ticket links below.

Star Cluster Special – March 10th (moved from Feb 10th) 7pm-9pm

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The Hyades and Pleiades Star clusters

Explore the great winter open clusters under moonless dark skies with campfire stories to follow. Outdoor binocular guiding under clear skies. Indoor talk, astronomy activities and virtual guiding in the classroom in the event of poor weather. Refreshments provided.

Ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dark-sky-observingwith-a-sta…

Solar Special and the Life of Stars – April 14th 2pm – 4pm

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A typical G-type main sequence star – locals have dubbed this one ‘The Sun’

A Sun special exploring our nearest star and the life of giant stars. Outdoor sun projections and activities, with illustrated talk and refreshments. Suzann even has plans for a solar pizza oven!

Ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/some-sunny-science-and-the-l…

All stargazing events organised in collaboration with the Abriachan team, astronomer Stephen Mackintosh and learning coordinator Suzann Barr. Campfire tales delivered by forest ranger Clelland.

For group bookings please email: abriachanforest@gmail.com

Mesolithic Stargazing at Abriachan

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Stargazing at Abriachan – Photo by Ken Armstrong – Castlehill Photography

A fantastic night of stargazing was had at Abriachan community forest last Friday.  The night was dubbed ‘Mesolithic Stargazing’ and was delivered as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival.

Abriachan is an excellent location for dark sky observing, being both well elevated in the high moors above the Great Glen and miles away from urban light pollution.  Its southern skies are particularly stunning.

Interest in the event far exceeded expectations, with a Facebook event erected in August achieving a shared reach of over 35,000 people!  The Sky at Night magazine even got in touch, wishing to highlight the event in the ‘What’s On’ section of the print magazine.   Because of this, a late request for email bookings had to be enforced by Abriachan to control numbers.  This left lots of folks disappointed but ultimately ensured the event ran smoothly.

There were two elements to the evening which people could move between – stargazing and mesolithic campfire stories.  I was set up to host the stargazing component out in the open above the forest classroom, while ranger Clelland built a hearty fire in the woods for camp fire tales.  Meanwhile, Suzann and the Abriachan team prepared the site and classroom, marking out paths with glow-sticks to help people negotiate safely in the dark.  They also readied hot drinks, soup and snacks to serve from the Camanachd Cabin beside the classroom.

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Mesmerising colours – Photo by Ken Armstrong – Castlehill Photography

Around 7pm folks started arriving, just as an ominous bank of clouds rolled in.  I needed some extra time to decide if the stargazing would go ahead at this point, so Suzann helpfully escorted the first group of folks down to the campfire for stories.  Meanwhile, lots more people were arriving and a call had to be made soon on whether to abandon the stargazing, and instead present an indoor talk I’d prepared on ‘Ancient Astronomy’.

Thankfully the shifting skies soon made that decision easy.  The clouds began melting away revealing a lovely evening sky peppered with brighter stars.  By the time I escorted my first group to the appointed observing spot the skies were ablaze with stars, and a beautiful Milky Way soared overhead.  After that, conditions got better and better, and to top it all off a mesmerising display of northern lights materialised, distracting everyone from the stargazing as it ebbed and rippled high in the northern sky.

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The Summer Triangle and the Cygnus Rift, captured by photographer Claire Rehr

In rough order, the stargazing tour covered the following:

  • Ursa Major and the Big Dipper asterism
  • Ancient navigation and time keeping using Polaris and circumpolar constellations
  • Properties of Polaris
  • Cassiopeia – the 1572 Tyco Brahe supernova
  • Perseus – the Merfak group, the double cluster and the ghoul star Algol
  • Andromeda – the stunning M31 galaxy.
  • The story of Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus and the sea monster Cetus
  • The summer triangle – Vega, Deneb and Altair
  • Cygnus – the galactic disk, the Cygnus rift and the Kepler exoplanet survey
  • Lyra – Vega and the double double
  • The unique properties of the blue-white giant Vega
  • Delphinus and Sagitta – the coat hanger asterism
  • Meteor storms and large impactors

The tour was largely naked eye and with binoculars.  I had hoped to get some telescope time in with the 200mm auto tracker, but the groups were too large to make that a practical option.  However, some folks who stayed behind after the tours did see some pleasing views of Andromeda and the double cluster in the eyepiece.

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More stunning aurora, captured by photographer Claire Rehr

Overall the evening was a big success with lots of positive feedback.  The addition of a stunning display of northern lights made the experience all the more memorable.  By all accounts the story telling was very well received too, with Clelland recounting a Celtic tale about Ursa Major, including the ghoul star ‘Algol’ in Perseus, which we’d surveyed earlier in the sky tour.

A followup event is planned for November 18th.  Please check the Facebook site for details.