Some good news regarding future face to face astronomy programs, delivered up in the Scottish Highlands. All of this is caveated on the assumption that live gatherings are legal and safe at the end of this year.
Next season (from November) I’ll be continuing to work with Caroline Snow to deliver our Urban Astronomy programme based out of the Friends Of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve in Inverness (with the Sea Scouts hall as our indoor base of operations). These events have been growing in popularity and we’re really glad they’re going to continue.
Merkinch Moon gazing
Star Stories will also continue from Abriachan Forest (Dark Sky Discovery Site) with Suzann, Clelland, Ronnie and the rest of Abriachan Communityteam. The STFC spark award funding is due to end this season, but the programme will continue on a sustainable footing with events (hopefully) starting in November. This whole programme has been a massive success and I look forward to completing my research report for STFC with dissemination for various astronomy publications.
Clelland in action
I’ll also continue my hotel based outreach work for the likes of The Torridon and appearances at various festivals, whenever it’s safe and practical to do so.
Some future plans are also underway, including an outreach programme with much bigger scope that will involve various partners and potentially some innovative new technology.
The main constellations were visible over the Merkinch nature reserve in the west of Inverness, and even a hint of Milky Way.
We had a great evening at the Merkinch Urban Astronomy gathering tonight. Big thanks to Dr Anthony Luke for delivering a fascinating talk on the chemistry of stars and supernovas. We learnt all about the synthesis of elements and compounds forged in the heart of stars.
Afterwards we were rewarded with clear skies, so I led a group up to the nature reserve for a blustery stargazing session over the Beauly Firth.
Overlooking the water we had lovely views of Orion, the Pleiades and even a hint of the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy.
The next event is an Aurora Special on Feb 20th with guest Graham Bradshaw.
I had a fun evening delivering a Moon talk and observing session for members of the Highland Italian Society in Inverness last night.
After an indoor presentation we headed outside where the waning gibbous Moon was on full display, plus a generous sprinkling of brighter stars.
I set up a big pair of tripod mounted 100×20 binoculars to replicate the stunning views Galileo saw when he first sketched the lunar surface in detail – captured in his Sidereus Nuncius. By then his telescope could achieve x20 magnifications, enough to reveal topographical detail along the Moon’s terminator.
Here’s some of the very early sketches Galileo made of the Moon at this time (from the Siderius Nuncius).
Galileo’s early Moon sketches using his x20 magnification refractor
Unfortunately I had to refuse the generous amounts of wine on offer after the session as I was driving home. I left wondering if Galileo did his observing with a large glass of Chianti in hand?
The Highland Italian Circle meet on Inverness on the third Friday of the month from October to March. If you’re interesting in attending their gatherings please contact May Gillan on 01463 223563 or email email@example.com.
The dynamics of the rings are so subtle and complex. Some of the gaps in the rings are made by moonlets clearing paths, whilst other moons are actually replenishing the rings.
The small moon Enceladus is a fascinating example. It’s spewing out frozen ice from its south pole due to tidal heating, effectively generating Saturn’s faint E ring (the faint blue outer ring pictured above).
Enceladus, a small icy Moon with a salty internal ocean. Tidal stresses imparted by Saturn produce great jets of water from the southern pole of Enceladus, which instantly freeze, adding icy material to Saturn’s E ring.
You could sit on a moonlet of Saturn and watch the rings forming little wavelets in real time around you. Some of the larger rings actually wash back and forth like waves on a giant ocean.
Many of the smaller moonlets orbiting Saturn have a polished or smooth aspect to them. This is due to fine particulates from the rings being drawn towards them due to gravity, effectively power coating the surface and covering over any craters or blemishes. This accretion of material onto the moons has been imaged by Cassini.
We had great turnout for the kickoff. The next event is a Moon special on Nov 7th. Look out for eventbrite links here on on my Facebook page.
The tiny moon Pan, clearing a path through Saturn’s rings. Its gravity is strong enough to produce beautiful ripples within the rings. As it orbits, Pan receives a fine power coating of frozen dust from the rings lending the moonlet a smooth, polished appearance.
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.