Only connect, as Goethe said. Or was it E.MForster? Or did I already already use that gag in an earlier post? Anyhoo. Two or so weeks ago commenters on my own nuclear blog post made me eat humble pie , liberally sprinkled with Thorium. Last week I was in Thurso, in the far distant north of our fair land. “Thurso” ought to mean to Thor’s town, but sadly it doesn’t, actually meaning “Bull’s River” or some such. However, it is just down the road from Dounreay, for many years the home of Britain’s development programme in fast breeder reactors. The last Dounreay reactor, the “Prototype Fast Reactor” was shut down in 1994, but the plant still employs large numbers of people, because of the extended decomissioning programme. The aim is to return to a brownfield site by 2036.. Nuclear power ain’t simple. Also, the MoD still run some experiments there. Its all quite nicely explained in this wikipedia page on Dounreay.
Anyway, for a such a remote area, with a population of a few tens of thousands, Caithness has a substantial sprinkling of high-tech and generally educated folk, who work for Dounreay and related activities, and an active and lively Astronomical Society – the Caithness Astronomy Group. These nice folk invited me up. Being in the distant north, it takes a whole day to get there even from Edinbrr, so I was there for several days, talking to multiple primary schools and doing a public talk as well as the usual astro-soc talk.
Caithness is a great place for amateur astronomy. Its as cloudy as most of Britain, but its DARK. When I asked the primary school kids who had seen a shooting star, 80% of the hands went up. I have never seen that in Edinburgh or London … and a large fraction of the populace have seen the Milky Way. You just walk out and there it is. The CAG chairbeing, Gordon Mackie, sent me the shot you can see to the left, taken at Loch More.
Caithness is also a great place for seeing the Northern Lights. Frustratingly, there was a massive CME arriving while I was there, but it was raining … Here is another Gordon Mackie shot to make up for it. Another ace astro-photographer is Stewart Watt. You can see his collection at “Under Highland Skies“.
But possibly the most exciting is Maciej Winiarczyk, who specialises in time-lapse astrophotography. He has lots of stuff on both YouTube and Vimeo. Take a look at this. But first pour a glass of Old Pulteney, sit back, and relax.
Oh, and its a nice place for a holiday.
I saw the northern lights once, when I was little. It was in Maine where I grew up, we spent a week in a cottage on a lake. My father woke us all up in the middle of the night to see (and, I seem to remember, hear) it. I was a little groggy at the time, but am so grateful he woke us up! A rare and special experience.
Pity you didn’t have a clear sky while you were there. Everyone should have the chance to see a good dark night sky at least once – especially in their own humble little country. I was up there about 30 years ago; mostly cloudy skies, as I recall, but it would have been NLC & long twilight season, rather than aurora and Milky Way. Saturday night in Wick was something to behold, compared with the bustle of Glasgow & Embra. Thurso on Sunday had its own eerie charm; all that was missing was tumbleweed rolling around the streets. I guess that’s the land of the Free Kirk for you.
Seven years ago we started running Dark Sky events in Thurso and similarly remote communities around Scotland. They set a high benchmark for us in terms of a new approach to outreach. But it wasnt the brilliant dark skies. Or the clouds. Or the”unnconnected” communities. It was because everybeing and his dog joined in. Dont think they didnt have anything else to do – local noticeboards were often rammed with local event flyers! But there was a widespread willingness to get involved. It made a for a great atmosphere. We were really welcomed onto their patch. And it was very positive for the children who came along to experience their community being so enthusiastic about science. We try to create a similar atmosphere in more urban settings – but it’s often harder to achieve.
Incredible story there. What occurred after?