Moon, Fox and Fire at Abriachan Forest!

Thanks to everyone who came up to Abriachan Forest on Saturday evening for our Moon, Fox & Fire event.

We had lovely clear skies for close up telescopic views of the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn through our big 200m reflector. Plus naked naked eye views of Mars and many bright stars. The clear conditions also allowed me to setup my video telescope for ultra close up views of the lunar surface projected onto an outdoor screen.

Abriachan headed up the campfire storytelling section afterwards, with some stealthy stealing games with the young fire guardians! As every my wife Judith prepared the home bakes with some very popular sticky toffee pudding cakes.

Our next event is ‘Dark Sky December’ on Dec 17th. Eventbrite links will go up soon.

November Star Stories at Abriachan Forest

Waxing crescent Moon at Abriachan Forest

Join us up at Abriachan Forest on November 4th for our first event of the 2022 Stargazing season – ‘Moon, Planets and Fox & Fire!’

To kick off the winter series our first event will be a Moon and Planet special with the waxing gibbous Moon, Jupiter and Saturn on display for live binoculor and telescope observing guided by astronomer Stephen Mackintosh. If skies are poor Stephen will instead present an indoor talk in the forest classroom on the history of lunar and planetary observing, going back to the earliest ideas our ancestors had about the Moon and Wandering Stars.

In addition the Abriachan team will present ‘Fox and Fire’ storytelling around the campfire with refreshments provided.

Due to site and classroom capacity, booking via Eventbrite is essential. Admission is free for under 16s with accompanying adults but please inform Abriachan of any large booking requests.

Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite HERE.

Guide to September Skies

What’s Up in September 2022 Night Sky Guide.

I hope you enjoy my short guide to September skies. Everything in this guide is calibrated to views around 11pm. Highlights include:

– Jupiter, Saturn and Mars

The Pleiades and Hyades open star clusters

– The Winter Triangle

– The Milky Way

– Lyra with the double double and ring nebula

– The Plough and its famous double star

Clear skies.

James Webb First Light

Here is the first ever image processed from the James Webb space telescope’s primary mirror. It shows copies of a distant star HD 84406, individually imaged through Webb’s 18 honey-comb like mirror segments.

This is part of the primary mirror alignment phase. A bit like the process backyard observers go through when we collimate our telescopes.

Over the next several weeks these individual points will converge to form a single image of the star, completing the alignment process and ensuring all components of the 6.5 meter primary mirror are working as one.

You can see the gold plated hexagonal components of the primary mirror in this second picture, which is a selfie the telescope took of its main mirror from outer space.

The astrophysical community awaits Webb’s first active mission pictures which I understand will be images of three of the largest low-albedo asteroids, as well as Jupiter’s red spot and Neptune’s southern polar vortex.

The Statistics of Large Space Rocks

Jupiter was recently hit by a giant space rock and astronomer @jose.luis_pereira (Instagram) was lucky enough to capture the impact in this incredible footage.

Encounters like this always remind me of our relative fragility on planet Earth. Although Jupiter’s gravity protects us from more frequent large impacts, there’s an inevitability when it comes to future encounters with big space rocks. You need only glance up at the Moon for clear evidence of this destructive heritage.

The statistics of space rock encounters are both reassuring (in terms of long timescales) but also gravely concerning (in terms of raw destructive power).

On average, every few hundred years, the Earth is hit by an object some 30-60 meters in diameter. Such an impact generates enough energy to devastate an entire city if the final shockwave is concentrated in the right position and direction. The 2013 Chelyabinsk and 1908 Tunguska events are recent example of such encounters.

Then every 10,000 years we’re hit by a 200-500 meter wide object, large enough to trigger short term but significant climate changes, potentially lowering global temperatures and disrupting crop growth and finely balanced ecological systems.

Then every million years a 2-4 kilometer wide impact can occur, releasing energy equivalent to the explosive output of every nuclear weapon on the planet!

Finally on a hundred million year timescale Earth can be visited by something like the Chicxulub event that wiped out the dinosaurs, an object some 10-20 kilometres across. That’s enough destructive power to wipe out vast swathes of life across the entire planet.

As a species we’re only a few million years old and our recorded history takes us back a paltry 10,000 years. It makes you wonder therefore, what unrecorded and long forgotten destructive encounters our distant ancestors experienced and survived? Or is our species yet to be challenged by any of the bigger impacts mentioned above?

Great Conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn

Jupiter and Saturn can be seen setting low in the SW during early evenings and you might have noticed they’ve been steadily appearing closer together in the sky. This will continue in the weeks ahead, culminating in a great conjunction in the run up to Christmas.

On December 21st, at their closest, they’ll be just 0.1 degrees apart. That’s only 1/5 of a full moon diameter! With the gas giants appearing this close together you’ll be able to view them under high magnification in the same field of view with your telescope.