Live Stargazing at the Stones of Callanish

Image by Claire Rehr

I’m very much looking forward to partnering with Callanish Stones & Visitor Centre, Gallan Head Community Trust and An Lanntair to deliver a live stargazing talk from the famous Callanish stones on the Isle of Lewis. This event is part of the 2021 Hebridean Dark Sky Festival

Tickets and further details for the event are available here from An Lanntair.

Callanish and the Cosmos by Scott Davidson.

Highland Astronomy and the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival team up for a special online stargazing event, live from one of the darkest places on the Isle of Lewis, in association with Calanais Visitor Centre and Gallan Head Community Trust.

Join us from the comfort of your own home – or outdoors – for a fascinating insight into the night sky.

Stephen Mackintosh (Highland Astronomy) is a freelance astronomer, night sky photographer and STEM educator based in the Highlands of Scotland. He delivers public outreach astronomy talks, tours, and private stargazing events at select dark sky locations around the Inverness area and wider Highlands.

Stephen will be on hand to answer any questions you have, from ancient astronomy to what you can see in the night sky right now.

As part of this year’s festival, Highland Astronomy is also doing live events at Scaladale Centre and Grinneabhat in Bragar.”

2021 Hebridean Dark Sky Festival

I’m very much looking forward to a return to the inky dark skies over the Isle of Lewis next February for the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival. The full lineup and details are available from organisers An Lanntair.

I’ve been reminiscing about last year’s festival, when I toured Lewis delivering outreach to a collection of remote communities under some of the best dark skies you’ll find anywhere. You can read my short account from last February on my blog page here. I look forward to more of the same in 2021, travelling to some new locations on the island.

“Watch the skies! The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is to return to the Isle of Lewis in February 2021. The two-week programme will include an exhibition by astronomy-inspired artist collective Lumen; music by Kathryn Joseph and Renzo Spiteri; talks by award-winning TV presenter Dallas Campbell and renowned climate scientist Tamsin Edwards; stargazing with Highland Astronomy; a night swim with Immerse Hebrides; and lots more to be announced. Find out more by reading our news story. Thanks to CalMac Ferries and Outer Hebrides LEADER for their continued support, and to festival partners/supporters Lews Castle College UHI, Callanish Stones & Visitor Centre, Stornoway Astronomical Society, Outer Hebrides, VisitScotland, Gallan Head Community Trust, Hebridean Hopscotch Holidays and Loganair.Please note that An Lanntair has put in place stringent systems to help mitigate risks from COVID-19 in its building and across its activities to keep staff and the public safe. Details can be found at https://lanntair.com/visit-us-safely/. A Coronavirus Risk Assessment specific to the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will be in place for the event. Stornoway Gazettewelovestornoway.comEVENTS: what’s happening in Lewis + Harris

Dark Sky Burns

“Thou lingering star, with less’ning ray,
That lov’st to greet the early morn…”

After last night I’m convinced Rabbie Burns did all his stargazing with a delicious wrap of haggis in hand.

Haggis hand warmers and Clelland’s address from last night’s sellout Dark Sky Burns event. Big thanks to the Abriachan team for the Burn’s supper fare. 

Due to inclement skies the astronomy moved indoors I got to talk in some detail about the planet Venus and its harsh environment.  A fascinating place that surely deserves more attention in the future, not least for its potential to harbour microbial life in its more clement upper atmosphere.

Why not try looking at Venus through a telescope or a pair of stabalised binoculars? You should be able to make out its phase, just as Galileo did when he first gazed up at it back in 1610.

Milky Way Over Loch Morlich

ISS Morlich

ISS cuts through the glowing band of the Milky Way, reflected in the waters of Loch Morlich in the Scottish Cairngorms

I enjoyed a pre equinox wild camp beside Loch Morlich last night. Amazing dark skies with the Milky Way bright enough to be faintly reflected on the loch’s surface.

Saturn and Jupiter shone in the early twilight before ISS made an appearance after 9pm, cutting through the bright band of the Milky Way.

Later still the Moon rose spectrally above the hills looking east, lighting up the loch like a beacon.

Happy equinox when it comes. Official time is Monday 23rd September at 8.50am.  Click below for more pictures.

 

Stargazing and Partial Lunar Eclipse over Snowdonia

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The Plough asterism, part of Ursa Major

I had the privilege of visiting Snowdonia this summer for a family camp in a beautiful river valley near Maentwrog.  During the evenings I managed a bit of stargazing before moonrise and captured a few bright constellations over the Welsh hills.

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Cassiopeia over the Welsh hills

I also captured a lovely close pairing between the Moon and the planet Jupiter.

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Jupiter sits serenely below the waxing gibbous Moon

The highlight, however, was witnessing a beautiful partial eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday evening at around 11pm.

I took these pictures and a short video using my smartphone anchored to a simple pair of 8×40 binoculars (mounted for stability).  The eclipse was already underway when the Moon rose into view and continued until well after midnight.

 

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