2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Dates

Please see confirmed dates for my stargazing tours next February for the 2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. I hope to be hosting a walk and talk under the stars from each location with an indoor fallback in the event of poor weather (so please book with confidence). Ticket links below:

“Astronomer Stephen Mackintosh will host stargazing events at Calanais Standing Stones and Visitor CentreScaladale Centre and Grinneabhat (Bragar and Arnol Community Trust) as part of the 2022 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. #hebdarkskies

Tickets are on sale now – book here:
Calanais, 17 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-calanais/
Grinneabhat, 18 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-grinneabhat/
Scaladale, 19 Feb: https://lanntair.com/…/highland-astronomy-at-scaladale…/

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival runs from 11-25 February. Look out for lots more programme announcements in the next few days – and for our printed festival programme, available at An Lanntair and across the island from next week! Full listings at https://lanntair.com/events/category/dark-skies/

#hebdarkskies is supported by CalMac FerriesHighlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Culture Business Fund Scotland, in partnership with Lews Castle College UHIGallan Head Community TrustCalanais Standing Stones and Visitor Centre and Stornoway Astronomical Society.”

November Star Stories

Stargazing next to the round house in Abriachan Forest

Thanks to everyone who braved the subzero temperatures up at Abriachan Forest last Saturday for Star Stories. Our guest storyteller John Burns delivered a captivating one man play and storytelling session up in the forest round house, and even succeeded in ushering out a few stars at the very end.

Afterwards the skies opened up beautifully and we had clear views of the Milky Way and many circumpolar constallations during our outdoor stargazing session. Special thanks to Gretchen for the Jupiter biscuits!

That’s a wrap for this year. Our next event will be the Dark Sky Burns at the end of January 2022 before our guest speaker events in February and March. You can read more details on the full programme here.

The Milky Way glowing through some light cloud and haze at Abriachan.

Meteoric Start to New Star Stories

IMG_4079

The Milky Way glows overhead between thin tendrils of cloud.  Deneb and Vega shine brightly next to the bright and dark lanes of the Cygnus Rift.  By photographer Claire Rehr

The new Star Stories astronomy programme for the 2018/2019 season got off to a great start up at Abriachan Forest Trust last Friday, with plenty of clear breaks in skies for Milky Way observing and binocular stargazing. This was despite very unsettled weather predicted by the MET office as storm Callum blew in from the west.

This first event was in collaboration with the Highland Archaeology Festival, and pitched on a loose Neolithic stargazing theme which I had worked into a backup talk in the event of cloudy skies.  As it happened we had enough clear conditions to stargaze all evening and the talk was parked for another occasion.

Due to the healthy turnout we split the night into two streams, with one group joining Abriachan’s Clelland for Celtic tales around an open fire, while the other group joined me under darkness for a laser pointer and binocular tour of visible constellations.  We then swapped over at half time.

IMG_4080

Some broken clouds looking East with the Pleiades rising next to Perseus.  By photographer Claire Rehr.

Both stargazing groups saw plenty of open sky despite fast moving cloud, and we were able to field test the new hand held binoculars funded by our STFC grant.  The Milky Way and summer triangle were on fine display in the south with bright lanes of glowing star fields high overhead.  We also saw most of the northern circumpolar constellations, including Ursa Major, and discussed Polaris at some length before sighting the Pleiades in the East and the rich clusters within Perseus and Cassiopeia.

But the most dramatic event was gifted to the first group of stargazers, when a spectacular burning meteor soared overhead towards the north, briefly lighting up the whole sky.  A subsequent discussion on social media prompted another observer in Lairg – Chris Cogan – to post a picture of a very bright meteor he also saw streaking north and lighting up an entire hillside.

chris cogan lairg

The tail end of a bright meteor lighting up Lairg’s skies.  Photo by Chris Cogan.

This generated a lively discussion and some investigation into how far away two observers can be situated and still see the same bright meteor.  It turns out pretty far!

Due to the high altitude meteors burn up in the atmosphere, about 40 – 60 miles overhead, it’s very possible for two observers hundreds of miles apart to see the same meteor.  The only requirement is they lie along the same approximate vector as the burning space rock.  In this specific case, Abriachan and Lairg are both in a rough line travelling north.  The time recorded on Chris’s picture also checks out with our observing time at Abriachan.  So, all told, reasonably convincing evidence we witnessed the same fireball, seventy miles apart.

Overall feedback on the night has been great so far and I’m already looking forward to the Leonids Special in November, when we will be joined by guest speaker Dr Anthony Luke of UHI, talking about the chemistry of stars and meteors.

Clear skies!

IMG_4073

The Milky Way against the backdrop of the wooded hills at Abriachan.  Brilliant Altair and the constellation Aquila sit middle left.  By photographer Claire Rehr.

44035787_1861588447230262_3187389204246036480_o

Clelland spinning more starry tales around the open fire.  Photo courtesy Abriachan Forest Trust

The night sky photographs for this piece were kindly donated by Claire Rehr .  Please visit her Instagram account ‘rehr_images’ to see more of her stunning pictures.