My Stargazing Experience at The Torridon will be starting up again from October 2021 with bookings now open.
The Torridon is a location with exceptional darkness in the remote western Highlands of Scotland. You can see a preview of my stargazing experience on the BBC’s Amazing Hotels. Near the end I take Giles and Monica out for an excursion under the stars.
Fingers crossed both my community based stargazing programmes will be up and running again by October (at Abriachan Forest and the Merkinch Nature Reserve).
The Milky Way over the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis. Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in this shot low above the horizon. By Emma Rennie of Callanish Digital Design. www.callanishdigitaldesign.com
Another stunning Milky Way shot by Christopher Cogan taken from Muie in Sutherland in the far north of Scotland.
Two stunning Milky Way images taken last night from the Scottish Highlands (and Islands). Both show the bright region of the Milky Way in the vicinity of the Summer Triangle, looking south.
If you imagine our Milky Way as a vast disk of stars, these views are peering further ‘into’ the disk, where the density of stars and stellar matter is greater, and hence brighter. Contrast this with the fainter regions we see in Winter near Orion, when we peer ‘out’ of the galactic disk.
The dark lanes you can see are part of the Cygnus Rift – a region containing vast clouds of dust that obscure some of the light from the billions of stars in the background.
With the Moon well out of the way and proper darkness returning late at night, now is a great time to go out and see the Milky Way for yourself.
Here’s a video (with some voice over) I shot last night when out Moon gazing from my back garden.
I never ever regret the tiny effort and time investment involved in digging out my binoculars or telescope to have a look at the Moon.
Eric presenting his guest talk up at Abriachan
There were only a few stars up at Abriachan Forest tonight for our Star Stories Astrophotography special, but some nice early views of the waxing crescent Moon and Venus before the weather really turned and a mini snowstorm descended.
Many thanks to our guest speaker Eric Walker from the Highlands Astronomical Society for delivering a fantastic talk on astrophotography. Eric showcased a ton of amazing images he’s taken over the years demonstrating his passion for astronomy and observing.
Clelland also entertained in the round house with storytelling and we had a nice impromptu discussion about the night sky over the campfire between changeovers.
The next Star Stories is our Vernal Equinox special in March, which will be the last opportunity for dark sky observing this season before the return of longer days.
Eventbrite link here
The Milky Way over the grounds of the Torridon Resort
I’ve had some fantastic excursions out to the Torridon Resort recently, where I deliver outreach astronomy and stargazing for guests at the hotel.
Weather can be unpredictable this far west but when conditions open up the skies are undoubtably some of the darkest in Scotland, easily surpassing the darkness levels over the Cairngorms, which are still hindered by skyglow from the populated Moray coast. This far west there’s almost no skyglow and inky black skies allow amazing views of the Milky Way and deep sky objects like the Andromeda galaxy, open star clusters and faint nebulae.
In addition to hosting several stargazing dinners I was also involved in some filming with the BBC up at the Torridon and look forward to seeing if the starry sky sequences make the final cut.
If you’d like to treat yourself or a loved one to a special stargazing experience please see the details here on the Torridon’s website. Meanwhile, enjoy some recent pictures I took from the hotel grounds and nearby Achnasheen.
The Torridon Resort
A passing meteor at the Torridon
The Milky Way near Achnasheen
The Pleiades rising over the trees near Achnasheen
I’ll be touring the outer Hebrides delivering outdoor stargazing as part of the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival 2020. The festival is a fantastic reason to visit the isles during the winter months and appreciate their world class dark skies. Organisers An Lanntair have put a fantastic programme together spanning music, art, theatre and stargazing.
Details of my own route and outreach locations for stargazing will be published soon so stay tuned. For full festival details and some early booking links please visit the festival website.
The northern lights looking over the Beauly firth towards the Black Isle, Inverness-shire
After reports of a KP6 geomagnetic storm predicted to strike Scotland over the weekend, and clear skies on Sunday evening, I headed out after sunset to try and catch the northern lights. This was a very early aurora excursion as nights have only just got dark enough for decent views of the night sky, let alone tracking down the faint and elusive northern lights.
My initial outing took my into the hills above Bunchrew where I bagged some lovely views of the summer Milky Way overhead. Turning my attention north I noticed a faint arc of light on the horizon, and sure enough some test shots picked up a vibrant band of purple and green auroral light. However little structure was evident until I moved to lower elevations, reaching the Bunchrew shoreline just after 10.30pm.
The Milky Way near Cygnus, framed between trees above Bunchrew.
From this new vantage, in the dark looking over the Beauly Firth, the northern lights stood out much more clearly as distant columns of white light, slowly morphing and scintillating above the horizon. Some of the images (attached) show nice structure and the suggestion of wave like movement.
As our nights get darker many more opportunities to view the aurora will present themselves. The best strategy is to simply get out there as often as you can when it’s clear, and try and escape the boundaries of light polluted towns and cities. Aurora forecasts should only be used as a guide as they’re seldom reliable. Remember to look north and where possible find some nice low horizons in this direction.
Good luck and clear skies.
The aurora is caused by the solar wind slamming into the earth’s atmosphere near the poles, ionising chemical elements which produce light at very specific quantised frequencies.