Island Universes – Inverness Science Festival

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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:  ISF Facebook and Eventbrite

 

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.

 

 

Galaxy NGC 2841

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Galaxy NGC 2841. Imaged by Hubble nearly 50 million light years away in the constellation Ursa Major. This is an example of a spiral galaxy with no central bar, just a beautiful continuum of overlapping circular dust lanes.

It contains between 400 billion to 1 trillion stars, and like most galaxies outside our local group its receeding away from us, in this case at nearly 500 miles per second.

Distant Galaxies in Virgo

As the constellation Virgo rises earlier and earlier after darkness we’re entering a time of great opportunity for observing distant galaxies.

Within the upper right hand stretches of Virgo are giant clusters of galaxies strung out in loose bundles. Some of these very distant galaxies can even be see in bioculars if you’re under excellent dark skies.  Telescopes will pick them out better and it’s here that aperture rules.  Faint galaxies need big objective lenses to see clearly.

More galaxies are scattered to the lower right of the constellation too, including the famous Sombrero galaxy (pictured).

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The Sombrero Galaxy

Your fleeting glances will look nothing like Hubble’s post processed images but you will be witnessing the hazy light from billions of ancient stars for yourself.  These galaxies are island universes just like our Milky Way, and contain many billions of stars.

Clear skies.

 

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