Comet SWAN update! ☄️ Comet SWAN is just starting to become viable for observation at northern European latitudes as it sails through the constellation Perseus. This one will be very tough to see due to its low altitude and lack of darkness 🌅 . In fact it may not be visible at all if you live too far north. However, if you’re up for a real challenge, grab your binoculars and read on.
Just like this week’s Venus and Mercury planetary conjunction 🪐 , SWAN will be visible towards the north 🧭. As the week progresses it will rise higher and higher in the sky so theoretically should become easier and easier to observe (see attached guide images). Unfortunately this will be countered by less and less darkness as May advances.
The absolute best instrument for spotting a comet is a pair of binoculars, or the widest possible eyepiece you have on a telescope. Scan the sky using my pictures and bright stars for reference. Don’t expect a huge streaking object like you’ll see in astronomy magazines (or the front image I’ve attached 😆 ) – If you’re very lucky you might detect a tiny and faint smudge.
The darker your surroundings and more dark adapted your vision the better 🌑 👀 , so stay away from bright street lights and mobile phone screens for at least 15 minutes. If you live under street lights 🌃 your chances of sighting the comet are far lower but don’t let that put you off. Comets can vary in brightness dramatically and can very occasionally brighten enough to be detected naked eye.
What’s great about this challenge is you can also look out for Mercury and Venus at the same time, as all the action takes place towards the same cardinal direction – North.
Good luck and clear skies.
A rare opportunity to observe a Venus and Mercury conjunction over the next few days.
From tonight (Monday) Mercury will appear progressively closer to Venus in the NW sky after sunset, leading to conjunction on Thursday and Friday night. An excellent chance to see Mercury in binoculars or observe the phase of both planets in a garden telescope.
Mercury is much dimmer and more challenging to see than Venus so my advice is to use Venus as a reference for finding Mercury in your binoculars or telescope. Those, like myself, living in the north of Scotland might need to wait a little longer after sunset to see the planets (due to pervading daylight). This makes it more of a challenge as both planets will be closer to the horizon by then.
Moreover, as both planets will only be around 10 degrees above the horizon at conjunction you’ll need to get away from tall trees or buildings that might obscure your view NW. Hopefully those pesky clouds stay away too.
Clear skies and good luck.
An example of gamification in one of my recent projects called Stellar Evolver (with audio voiceover). This is a fully VR ready experience and will enable players to interact with and watch the evolution of star systems using the visceral mechanics and feedback of a 3D based shooter.
Stellar systems can evolve from simple proto-planets up to red dwarfs and larger giant stars, eventually culminating in the formation of neutron stars and black holes.
Clearly the overall dynamics, scale and time is being exaggerated here for playability. I hope to demonstrate a working multiplayer prototype at the 2021 Hebridean Dark Sky Festival.
Developed by Mackintosh Modelling & Data Simulations
Few words are needed to describe this incredible video. It was captured by Jan Koer with a Meade 5000 a 3x Barlow and a ToUcam2 video camera.
Eric presenting his guest talk up at Abriachan
There were only a few stars up at Abriachan Forest tonight for our Star Stories Astrophotography special, but some nice early views of the waxing crescent Moon and Venus before the weather really turned and a mini snowstorm descended.
Many thanks to our guest speaker Eric Walker from the Highlands Astronomical Society for delivering a fantastic talk on astrophotography. Eric showcased a ton of amazing images he’s taken over the years demonstrating his passion for astronomy and observing.
Clelland also entertained in the round house with storytelling and we had a nice impromptu discussion about the night sky over the campfire between changeovers.
The next Star Stories is our Vernal Equinox special in March, which will be the last opportunity for dark sky observing this season before the return of longer days.
Eventbrite link here
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.
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.