Aurora Borealis display from Inverness

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.

Einstein Goes To Hollywood

Join me at 7pm on Sunday the 31st January for a special live talk with Glasgow University’s Professor Martin Hendry – Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology.

Martin will be taking a light-hearted look at how ideas from Einstein’s theories have found their way into lots of the blockbuster movies we know and love. Plus a What’s Up guide to February skies from yours truly.

This event is brought to you by the Merkinch Nature Reserve Astronomy programme. It’s free and open to everyone but if you enjoy the session we would ask you to kindly donate using the provided links during the event stream.

The event will be broadcast live from my facebook page. Please use the following link to join the stream: https://fb.me/e/2hskXuAmx

Very Active Peak Geminids

Andy Coley. Taken from Portskerra in Sutherland.

From my own exposure last night and the testimony of many eye witness accounts posted on my Facebook page, the peak of the 2020 Geminids was one of the most active meteors showers in several years. Many parts of northern Scotland had clear skies with reported activity reaching up to 40-50 meteors per hour.

From my own location at the western end of Inverness I was able to observe a flurry of bright shooting stars early in the evening was all set to head out into darker locations when clouds rolled in. Thankfully, skies opened up again after 11pm and I witnessed several more under partially clear skies, with a particularly bright example fizzing overhead towards the north west around 11.30pm.

I’ll leave you with some amazing photographs captured around the north of Scotland.

Chris Cogan up in Muie, Sutherland
By Louise Carle
A Geminid meteor and the Milky Way over Abriachan Forest by Laura Stewart

Inverness Nature Reserve Astronomy Evenings

Nature Reserve Astronomy evenings will resume online this year, starting end of November with an Introduction to Buying a Telescope + short talk on the planet Mars.

Please follow this page for event links going up over the winter. Some of these events could be broadcast live if weather permits so please keep your page notifications on.

There will also be an Abriachan Forest event on the winter solstice, promoted separately.

Most Used Astronomy Apps

One of the most frequent questions I receive is which apps to use for stargazing and astronomy. Here’s my top 8 most used apps with a brief description of what I use them for.

SkySafari 6 – My main planetarium app that lets me see what’s up on a particular evening and plan my excursions under the stars. It also comes with useful telescope control functionality.

Dark Sky Map – Let’s me see areas of light pollution in my local area and further afield. Essential if you’re planning to stargaze somewhere you’ve never been before so you can guage darkness levels and avoid pesky light pollution.

Park4night – Once you’ve decided on a dark location getting off the road and parked can be a massive headache, especially where I live in the Highlands of Scotland where there’s plenty of dark areas but very little access. This app will show you lay-bys and parking spots for brief stops or overnight parks.

Glendale App – One of the best Aurora alert apps for tracking down the elusive northern lights.ISS Detector – My main app for seeking out and planning International Space Station passes. Works from your home location or anywhere in the world.

Clear Outside – One of the best weather apps aimed at stargazing. Summarises different altitudes of cloud cover, Moon brightness, wind and precipitation and provides you with a simple traffic light system for each night.

Compass Galaxy – I have a Samsung phone but any compass app will do to help you find north out in the field.

Phases of the Moon – The presence of the Moon is a huge deal. For Milky Way observing and deep sky astronomy you want to avoid the Moon and this app will quickly tell you the phase and rise and set times at your local position.

I should add that I’m in no way affiliated with any of these apps or software companies. This is just an honest peek into what I use to help me enjoy the night sky. I hope you find it useful.

The Veil Nebula

Around 15,000 years ago a star 20 times more massive than our Sun dramatically exploded in a region of space within the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

Since then the shockwave and expanding envelope of ejected stellar material and ionised gas has been racing apart, creating a nebulous structure over 130 light years across. This image, captured by Katie Hughes, from her home in Loch Lomond, is all that remains of this event (a supernova remnant) in visible light.

Thank you very much for sharing the stunning image Katie. Katie has recently started an Instagram page with more of her images. Please visit it here.