Stargazing a Gateway into Nature

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Stargazing can provide mental perspective and wellbeing.  Problems we’ve amplified in our heads can seem much less important under the amazing canopy of the night sky.

Here’s some interesting stats to think about. 

1. The average person in Scotland spends less than 30 minutes a day outdoors.
2. This equates to over 50 years of an average person’s life spent indoors.

This despite growing levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Yet one of the best, and absolutely free, ways to alleviate stress and anxiety is being in nature, and stargazing gives us that little bit of extra motivation to head outside, especially during the long periods of darkness we experience over winter in Scotland.

Even if you don’t see anything, packing your binoculars and heading out for an evening stroll under open skies is almost never a waste of time. At the very least you get some exercise, and if you’re lucky, a beautiful night sky to gaze up at.

Clear skies.

Aldourie Primary Astronomy Outreach

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One of the objects we observed was the star forming nebula in Orion’s sword, imaged here by local aurora hunter and photographer Chris Cogan.

I had a fun astronomy outreach session with pupils and parents from Aldourie Primary near Loch Ness on Friday evening. At 6pm kick off we saw some captivating glimpses of dazzling Venus before it set below the tree line.

Due to initially changeable weather we moved between my indoor presentation and outdoor stargazing, but ended up getting a brilliant spell under the stars mid session.

Despite its relative closeness to Inverness skies are dark enough out here to see the Milky Way very clearly. 

Lots of the youngsters (and parents) tried their hand at binocular stargazing for the first time, peering at open star clusters, double stars, the Orion nebula and Andromeda galaxy.

If you’d like to book an outreach session for your school please message me on my facebook site, Highland Astronomy.

Supernova night at Inverness Nature Reserve

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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.

Winter Solstice Star Stories

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The Cygnus region of the Milky Way at Abriachan Forest on the Winter Solstice 2019

We had a great Solstice gathering under starry skies up at Abriachan Forest this evening.

A big thanks to author John Burns for presenting a trio of captivating tales around the campfire.  John was still under the weather with a bad cold on the night yet soldiered on to deliver two sessions of engaging storytelling.

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Best selling author and storyteller John Burns took some of his books along to the evening.

We also enjoyed a mesmerising display of fire dancing from Lesley Brown who kicked off  proceedings and provided more entertainment during the changeover.  Suzann’s mulled juice and mince pies were also greatly appreciated.

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Fire dancing with Lesley Brown

Skies were so good I decided to sideline my talk on the astronomy of ancient architecture, and was instead able to deliver outdoor stargazing all evening long, Highlights included zipping meteors, the Orion constellation, the Andromeda galaxy, numerous star clusters and a bright and vibrant Milky Way overhead.

Star Stories continues in the new year.  Look out for the next set of booking links on my Facebook site.

 

Beginners Astronomy Kit

Yesterday I presented my beginners guide to observing and buying a first telescope at the Inverness Urban Astronomy gathering.  Here is my 2020 recommendations for good starter equipment.

1. Binoculars: 8x40s or 10x50s. Prices from £50 for decent ones. I personally use Olympus DSP1s and we’ve purchased these for both the Abriachan and Merkinch outreach programmes.

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2. Telescope: Skywatcher 150mm or 200mm dobsonian. Simple to use with great performance. Prices from £175. Get the 200mm if you have the space and extra cash to spend.

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3. Books: Left Turn at Orion and Stargazing for Dummies. From £15 each.

 

4. A red light LED headtorch. From £6 if you go to Tesco’s. Up to £30 for a good quality one.

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5. A planisphere. They cost around £10 and can be found in good book stores.

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Of all the items above I’d say binoculars are the most important.  People are often surprised to discover I do over 90% of my observing with a simple pair of 8x40s.  You can read an earlier post on the merits of hand held astronomy here.

Geminids 2019

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Many thanks to Chris Cogan, a frequent contributor to my Facebook site, for sharing this spectacular Geminid fireball he caught up in Muie, Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands late on Saturday evening.

The facebook post created some interesting discussion, with several people claiming to have seen the same fireball as Chris.  This is very likely.  Last year when I kicked off the 2018 Star Stories programe we witnessed a similarly bright fireball flaring overhead.  By amazing coincidence Chris also photographed this one around 70 miles north of our position.  You can read about that encounter here.

This year’s Geminids appear to have been very active and despite an almost full Moon reports came in from people claiming to have sighted dozens over a reasonably short interval.  My wife I can testify to this after witnessing three in very quick succession after only 5 minutes viewing under light polluted skies.

The next meteor shower to look out for is the Quadrantids, peaking between the 3rd and 4th January 2020.

Astronomy From the Moon

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The full Moon

We had a fantastic evening learning about and observing the Moon up at Abriachan forest tonight with special guest Professor Martin Hendry from Glasgow University.

Many thanks to Martin for joining us again and sharing his fantastic knowledge of cutting-edge research and active space missions. In addition to his talk on past and future Moon missions we also got a bonus dose of gravitational wave theory and cosmology thrown in for good measure.

After Martin’s talk I took everyone outside for an open air Moon talk and observing session, with the 99.8% full lunar disc shining brightly above us towards the south east.  Complimenting handheld binocular views we setup a telescope and two larger tripod mounted 100mm binoculars for closeups views

We ended up having a lively discussion and Q&A about the Moon’s history, geology and cultural connections.  Clouds eventually rolled in for 9pm signalling home time and the end of a stimulating gathering.

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Observing the full Moon