Orion The Hunter

With the mighty Orion holding court over our southern skies at the moment I thought I’d put together a short video tour of the main sights within the constellation, one of the oldest catalogued outside those of the ancient celestial pathway (or Zodiac).

This was also an opportunity to collaborate with some purveyors of quality ambient music.  For this video I’d like to thank artist Mlt and Nick Miamis and the team at Cosmicleaf Records for their fantastic music.

In future videos I plan to collaborate with some more artists, starting with tracks donated by Japan’s Kay Nakayama and Robert Hundt of Glitchy Tonic Records in Berlin.

Clear skies.

Winter Solstice Astronomy Outreach

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A captivating Clelland in full swing over the fire

Following the fantastic summer solstice  gathering last June we decided to add an astronomy themed winter solstice event to the Star Stories programme up at Abriachan.

Instead of stargazing the event was billed as a ‘Solstice and Moon night’, as I quickly realised the almost full Moon would be prominent in the sky and wash away significant views of the Milky Way and fainter galaxies and clusters.

As it was the evening was a fantastic success, with a bright mid winter Moon powering through some scattered light clouds and offering us lovely views of its surface via binoculars and video telescope.

 

 

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Before the Moon observing I presented a short indoor talk on the cultural and observational significance of the solstice, linking in various older mid winter traditions such as Saturnalia and Yuletide and outlining the folk connections with modern Christmas.

We also examined the importance of mid winter markers for the ancient settlers of high northern latitudes, where pitifully short days and long winters no doubt motivated a collective and religious celebration of the ‘turning point’ of the Sun’s midday altitude and its rising and setting points.  We followed this with a look at various solar aligned prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge and, much closer to home, the wonderful Clava Cairns which I visited recently with my family on Christmas Eve.

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Presenting my solstice talk before we stepped outside to observe the Moon

After the talk we moved outside to observe the Moon in binoculars and video telescope, with the aid of an outdoor projector and screen I had setup earlier.  The giant screen allowed everyone to see some of the striking features on the lunar surface up close and personal, like Tycho’s crater, the Apennine Mountains and various seas including the famous Sea of Tranquility where the first Apollo astronauts landed.

Meanwhile, Clelland took the second group into the forest for some dramatic campfire storytelling.  This evening he told a solstice inspired Celtic tale involving the mythological hero figure King Arthur, who some think may be connected with Welsh folk legend.  Participants also gathered up and tied together clumps of herbs to burn in the fire as they made new year wishes, another old winter tradition practiced in the Highlands and further afield.

 

 

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Feedback on this one has been great and we may well followup with a March Equinox event.  We’re also seeing many returning families and enthusiastic youngsters, which is fantastic.  Going forward Suzann and I will endeavour to capture some film interviews from some of the keenest young astronomers, recording their thoughts and feedback on their learning experience for future dissemination.

All pictures in this piece (aside from the Moon picture) are courtesy Abriachan Forest Trust.

The Geminids 2018

The Geminids, one of the most reliable and active meteor showers of the year is upon us with peak activity predicted between Dec 13th – Dec 14th.  Under the very best possible observing conditions the Geminids have been known to produce displays of up to 100 meteors per hour, although you’ll likely see rates much lower than this.

Occasionally and unpredictably, meteor showers can erupt into storms. One of the most famous happened in 1833 when the Leonids produced over 100,000 meteors per hour! Who knows what this December’s Geminids will bring?

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Observing the Geminids

You don’t need any special equipment to view a meteor shower, in fact binoculars or telescopes will just narrow your field of view. Grab a deck chair or a warm blanket, prepare a hot drink, wrap up warm and lay out under the darkest conditions you can find. It’s an excellent activity to do alone or if you have children they’ll love an excuse to get outside for some after dark play.

Put away any lights or bright mobile phones and simply look up and wait. Remember it takes up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt and any exposure to bright lights will start the process all over again. If you need a light red touches are best for preserving you night vision.

For optimal viewing, head out late at night after the Moon sets or in the darkness of the pre dawn sky., when the Gemini radiant is highest in the sky.

Good luck and clear skies!

Meteor_falling_courtesy_NASA

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