Star Stories with Dark Sky Man

Despite cloudy skies up at Abriachan Forest we had a fantastic evening of astronomy and storytelling on Saturday 12th January with special guest Steve Owens, aka Dark Sky Man.

Steve is the author of the popular Stargazing for Dummies book. He was presented with the Federation of Astronomical Societies 2010 award for Outstanding Achievement in Astronomy, and the Campaign for Dark Skies 2010 award for Efforts in Dark Sky Preservation.

Due to the weather the evening was split into two streams – an indoor talk on dark skies with Steve, and storytelling with Clelland in the forest.  Since I was off the hook I managed to capture some film and compiled a short vide of the evening below.

Star Stories Astronomy Outreach Update

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Starry skies above Abriachan, with Vega and Lyra at the extreme right of the shot.

The Star Stories astronomy programme at Abriachan Forest is going from strength to strength, with tickets selling out far in advance of each event.  Since the last update we’ve hosted two stargazing evenings, involving guest speakers Dr Anthony Luke (UHI) and Professor Martin Hendry (Glasgow University).

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More star studded skies above the classroom, close to brilliant Deneb in the Cygnus region of the Milky Way

The November event was a Leonids special, held near the peak of the annual meteor shower on Nov 16th, with the promise of perhaps observing some early atmosphere skipping Leonids.

Dr Anthony Luke presented a fascinating set of lectures on the chemistry of meteors and stars in the forest classroom, touching on the incredible pressure and heat generated within stellar forges that produce all the elements we see around us.

Meanwhile, I led the stargazing component outside with perfectly clear skies allowing us to take in the brightest stars, and views of the gibbous Moon in video telescope.  The lunar observing was particularly captivating, prompting discussion on the formation lunar maria, the highlands, and the Theia Moon origin hypothesis.

Clelland was also in action over the forest campfire making wooden star models for the younger participants.  There were no dramatic meteor sightings to match October’s spectacle but the event certainly whetted everyone’s appetite.

 

Then on December 5th, Glasgow University’s Professor Martin Hendry (of gravitational wave fame) joined us under dark skies for a Wednesday night special.

Martin is a hard working and inspirational advocate of all things astronomy and space.  Prior to me collecting him at his hotel he had already delivered a packed day of outreach to Inverness schools and hadn’t had a bite to eat since lunch.  Despite this he was incredibly grateful for the cold pizza I offered him on our drive out to Abriachan, and this meagre fare fuelled him sufficiently to deliver two fantastic talks on dark matter and gravitational waves in the forest classroom.  His talk highlighted some of the latest discoveries and simulations from the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) team.

The following day he was off on the train again to speak to more schools in the far north.

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The Pleiades and red giant Aldebaran

We were also blessed with lots of clear breaks on the 5th, so I once again led the observing component outdoors, this time taking groups further back into the darker areas above the classroom where the Milky Way was ablaze, and fainter fuzzies like the Andromeda galaxy leapt out at us in our binocular and naked eye views.  Amongst many things we discussed the evolution of hot massive stars like Betelgeuse and the Kepler exoplanet survey, which has been scanning vast numbers of star systems close to Cygnus and Vega, cataloging extrasolar planets.

Prior to packing away the binoculars I snapped some pictures of the starry skies close to the forest classroom (attached).

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Orion rising in the east from Abriachan Forest

Both evenings have garnered fantastic feedback and we’re looking forward to the next events, listed below.

As always a big thanks to learning coordinator Suzann Barr, Ronnie, Clelland and the rest of the Abriachan team who help make these events so welcoming and successful.  We’re also grateful to grant funding from the STFC, allowing us to invest in observing equipment, free transport and to extend the scope of this year’s programme.

Future Star Stories Events

Winter Solstice Special (21st December 2018) – Solstice talk and Moon observing with astronomer Stephen Mackintosh, turn of the year campfire twists with Clelland.

Stargazing with Dark Sky Man Steve Owens (12th Jan 2019) – Stargazing with author of Stargazing for Dummies Steve Owens

Star Stories Photography Special with guest Graham Bradshaw (9th Feb 2019) – Local landscape, aurora and night sky photographer Graham Bradshaw shares his stories of nights spent on exposed hillsides and offers tips to budding photographers.

STFC Support for Astronomy Outreach

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I received some fantastic news this week. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are supporting our continued programme of astronomy outreach at Abriachan Forest Trust, via a SPARK award.  The news was published in the BBC Highlands & Islands website here.

STFC council members were impressed with the successful pilot events delivered over the winter, bringing together astronomy, science and culture through the medium of stargazing and storytelling.

The released funds will be invested in observing equipment, landscape astronomy props, and transportation costs to help families without vehicles access future events.  They will also help us deliver another 12 events out at Abriachan over the next year and into 2019.

I’d like to personally thank the following individuals for their formal letters of support on the bid:

Suzann Barr – Learning Coordinator at Abriachan Forest Trust

Martin Hendry – Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics & Cosmology and Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Glasgow

Steve Owens – Dark Sky Consultant and Author of Stargazing for Dummies.

Elizabeth Barron-Majerik – Project Development Manager, School of Forestry, Science, Maths and Aquaculture, UHI

But most of all thanks to everyone who have attended the Abriachan stargazing sessions so far, during clear and wild weather.   Keep a look out for the future list of events.

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