Star Stories Astronomy Guest Speakers

Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Catherine Haymens, will visit Abriachan Forest in March 2022.

I’m delighted to confirm our guest speakers for the 2022 Star Stories programme. Following a ‘Stargazing Burns’ event on January 27th we’ll have a dark sky event in February with guest speaker Martin Hendry, Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow. Martin is a regular visitor to the forest and will be updating us on the latest discoveries on dark matter and dark energy followed by naked eye and binocular stargazing under Abriachan’s Milky Way class dark skies.

Then in March we’re very excited to welcome Scotland’s new Astronomer Royal, Catherine Haymens. Catherine will be joining us on March 14th for a special Moon night with a talk all about the Moons of our solar system. This will be followed by a live Moon observing session and Q&A. Catherine is Professor of Astrophysics and a European Research Council Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at the Ruhr-University Bochum.

Where possible, and understandably, all events will be setup for outdoor learning so please bring plenty of warm clothes and wrap up. Storytelling and other family friendly activities will also be delivered by the Abriachan team and guests. Ticket links will go live about 4 weeks prior to each event. Please follow my Facebook page for the latest.

Meanwhile the November 27th event has now sold out. This will be a dark sky evening with stargazing or astronomy talk presented by yours truly. Best selling author John Burns is our guest storyteller in November.

M13 The Great Hercules Globular Cluster

The Great Hercules Globular Cluster – M13

I hope you enjoy this conversational deep dive into the great globular cluster in Hercules. 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. Finding M13 and what to expect when observing.
2. The physical scale and composition of this vast cluster.
3. What the night sky might look like from within M13.
4. Could life emerge and survive within these ancient and densely packed stellar environments.
5. What can globular clusters tell us about our position within our own Milky Way.

Music by Rising Galaxy, Cosmicleaf Records , Spain.

Binary Black Holes – Gravitational Lensing

A visualisation of how extreme gravity can distort the light paths close to binary black holes. The blue and red halos are the accretion disks surrounding the black holes (material super heated close to the event horizon). The blue disk represents a black hole some 200 million times the mass of our Sun. The red one is a smaller black hole half this mass.

Gravitational lensing like this is a real and measurable consequence of general relativity and astrophysicists are now using sophisticated modelling techniques to make incredible predictions. One amazing application of gravitational lensing is predicting when duplicated but delayed images from the same supernovae will appear, allowing astronomers to study exploding stars in real time.

This happens when a single event – like a supernova – is projected into multiple copies of itself by a large intervening galactic mass, with each copy delayed due to different light paths through spacetime.⁣

Video Credit: @NASAGoddard

The Final Evolution of our Sun – illustrated by Adolf Shaller

I wanted to share some images with you that had me transfixed when I was a young boy (and still do to this day). I recall first seeing them in a hardback book of my father’s called Cosmos (which presumably accompanied the TV series that was being broadcast at the time).

The images depict the fate of our planet as the Sun transitions into a red giant star, at the very end of its life, some 4-5 billion years from now.

As the temperature of the Sun slowly increases, the oceans recede and our precious atmosphere is stripped away. Eventually the whole horizon is overwhelmed by the Sun in a bloated distended form, with the final image showing the Earth completely barren and parched.

I remember wondering at the time – where would all the people and animals be? Would we perish or find some new star to call our home? I think it was the first moment I glimpsed the immensity of stellar time scales and how tiny human lives and endeavours appeared to be next to these vast physical processes.

This is still what fascinates me most about astronomy and cosmology, and it’s amazing how something as natural and simple as looking up at the stars is a gateway into these incredible realms of the imagination.

Anyway here are the images, including their original captions. I was also pleased to find out that Adolf Shaller is still producing amazing art. Try an image search on Google with his name and enjoy.

‘The last perfect day’
‘The waters recede and most life is extinguished as the sun starts to swell and its luminosity rises.’
‘The oceans have evaporated and the atmosphere has escaped into space’
‘The sun, now a red giant, fills the sky over a dead planet. As we see in the next section, the red giant will eventually throw off its outer layers and become a white dwarf.’

New Information on Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse, shown here as the top left star in the shoulder of Orion

Some interesting new information has emerged on Betelgeuse, the red supergiant that marks the left ‘armpit’ of Orion the Hunter.

In summary:

1. It’s still burning Helium in its core so unlikely to go supernova until around 100,000 years.

2. It’s not as massive as previously thought. Earlier studies had shown its radius would extend to the orbit ofJupiter if placed in our solar system. This new data suggests its real radius is 60% of this.

3. It’s closer to Earth than previously measured, at 530 light years. This is 25% closer than we previously thought.

New data published in the Astrophysical Journal. Further reading here.

Watch a Supernova Explosion in a Distant Galaxy


See a supernova explosion in a distant galaxy over 50 million light years away.

Berto Monard witnessed Supernova 2015F in spiral galaxy NGC 2442 in March 2015, although the actual event happened 50 million years ago, long before human beings inhabited planet Earth.

Supernovae like this produce so much light energy they can briefly out shine the accumulated light from the entire galaxy. For this reason they can be witnessed even with moderately sized back garden telescopes, if you’re lucky enough to be pointing in the right direction at the right time!

Video Credit & Copyright: Changsu Choi & Myungshin Im (Seoul National University)
Source: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)

‘Gamification’ – Stellar Evolver

An example of gamification in one of my recent projects called Stellar Evolver (with audio voiceover). This is a fully VR ready experience and will enable players to interact with and watch the evolution of star systems using the visceral mechanics and feedback of a 3D based shooter.

Stellar systems can evolve from simple proto-planets up to red dwarfs and larger giant stars, eventually culminating in the formation of neutron stars and black holes.

Clearly the overall dynamics, scale and time is being exaggerated here for playability. I hope to demonstrate a working multiplayer prototype at the 2021 Hebridean Dark Sky Festival.

Developed by Mackintosh Modelling & Data Simulations