Wild Northern Skies

March 19, 2013

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, forMilky Way from Loch More, Caithness2012 Oct 7thGordon Mackie 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.

Aurora over Thurso CastleGordon Mackie2011 Aug 6th 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.


Sky Lovers

January 11, 2010


Galaxy images by Russell Croman. NGC 2903 on the left, NGC 891 on the right. Click for bigger versions.


Hello there 2010. Sorry for the absence of posts : I went into a sort of Christmas wasteland, followed seamlessly by a teaching panic. Strangely, even when there was nothing to read, the blog was being checked out 2-300 times a day. Aint you people got stuff to do ? (The Dec 16 peak was 2794. By the way have no idea what these numbers really mean.)

So later today I will be delighting a hundred and fifty fresh young things with Lecture One in Discovering Astronomy 1G. Before it all gets a bit serious, I shall be going for shameless entertainment, running Andy’s Whirlwind Tour of the Entire Universe. Its a few years since I have done this gig, so I have been roaming the Internut updating my picture collection. The three core websites for pretty pix are I guess Hubblesite , and the public Chandra and ESO sites. However, the most striking and interesting thing I came across is the existence of some amazingly impressive amateur astrophotography sites.

A few weeks back I wrote a post plugging Damian Peach and his amazingly sharp pictures using “lucky” imaging. This only works for very bright objects like planets. But amateurs are taking amazing deep sky pictures too. Some of them have 20inch telescopes as well as good CCD cameras; there are well designed filters, and excellent software. Some of them are lucky enough to live in Arizona, which helps. Finally of course their key weapons are patience and dedication; making excellent images is what they are all about. Of course some of them are professional photographers at the same time as being amateur astronomers.

Above are two galaxy pictures from Russell Croman, and below is a short list of some of my favourite web sites. Do respect the copyrights (I make sure they are properly credited in my lectures.) I note that they nearly all seem to be Americans or Brits. Surely our Euro cousins must be doing this stuff too ?

Jerry Lodriguss
Russell Croman, in Texas
Jonathan Fay at Bear Creek Observatory
Damian Peach, Buckinghamshire
Phillip Perkins, Wiltshire
David Nash, Cambridgeshire
Bob and Janice Fera, California
Jason Ware
George Creaney, Las Vegas
Nick Szymanek, well known tube driver
Akiro Fujii via David Malin

Enjoy !