I got lucky the other night and snapped the northern lights from my house in Inverness looking over towards the Black Isle. I was out filming for a stargazing video and noticed the bright glow naked eye.
Many people living in the north of Scotland wonder why they’ve never seen the northern lights because they’re more common than you might think.
Three of the main problems:
1. We hardly ever go outside in the cold of winter and spend so much time indoors. 2. Too much light pollution. 3. Looking in the wrong direction.
And here’s some simple solutions:
1. Get outside more and go for night walks – something I’ve been doing even more during lockdown. 2. Walk somewhere local but away from street lights. Try to get elevated – a local wood or hill perhaps. 3. Look North.
The Inverness Courier shared the image with a short story here.
I’ll be giving a talk on Tuesday 5th January 2021 for the Highlands Astronomical Society on the Astronomy of Ancient Monuments. If you’d like to hear the talk live please get in touch with the HAS secretary here. The talk will also be distributed on youtube a few days after the session and I’ll post the links up then.
I’m very much looking forward to a return to the inky dark skies over the Isle of Lewis next February for the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival. The full lineup and details are available from organisers An Lanntair.
I’ve been reminiscing about last year’s festival, when I toured Lewis delivering outreach to a collection of remote communities under some of the best dark skies you’ll find anywhere. You can read my short account from last February on my blog page here. I look forward to more of the same in 2021, travelling to some new locations on the island.
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.
Discussing the dark skies in the west of Scotland with Giles and Monica in the hotel lobby
There’s a short section at the end tonight’s Amazing Hotels on BBC 2, where I take Giles Coren and Monica Galetti out into the dark skies near the Torridon to go stargazing. 🌟🌟
Star fields galore from the grounds of the hotel
The skies that evening were incredibly vibrant with the Milky Way clearly visible. The night time camera footage doesn’t really do the views justice, but I think the BBC team captured the magic of our night under the stars really well.
What you won’t know from the footage is that Giles laced the hot chocolate with a generous dose of single malt whiskey!
In view of recent developments my contribution to this years Inverness Science Festival will be a free live streamed talk. Please visit my Highland Astronomy facebook page for more details:
Astronomer Stephen Mackintosh will take you back in time to discover how our distant ancestors used the Sun, Moon and stars to track the progress of time and the seasons. Looking at ancient monuments connected to the night sky, we’ll go on a tour of Egypt, Central America, southern England and back home to Scotland where some of the finest concentrations of neolithic structures exist anywhere in Europe, not least the wonderful Clava Cairns. Plus advice on sky watching and naked eye observing you can put into practice yourself.
Note: this event is free and will be live streamed online as part of the Inverness Science Festival’s adjusted programme.