Past Events - 2012
WORK IN PROGRESS - We're a relatively small Group, but undertake lots of activities, so please bear with us while we try to keep these details up to date.
Stargazing Live 2012
Early January saw CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie give a talk to the members of the Guild on what to see in the night sky. The talk used many locally taken photos of the night sky such as those taken by amateur photographer Stewart Watt (www.underhighlandskies.com) as well as a few of the better ones obtained by the speaker over the years.
This event was a suitable prelude to the forthcoming BBC Stargazing Live events which include programmes on BBC2 on the evenings of 16-18 January (www.bbc.co.uk/tv/features/stargazing/) as well as the local CAG Stargazing event on the 20th January at Castlehill Heritage Centre (www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/activity/starg … ence/50353)
Photo showing some of the Guild members with their newly acquired free BBC star guides to use next time the skies are clear.
Friday 20th of January saw CAG hold it's Stargazing Live event at Castlehill Heritage Centre. Unfortunately on a night of rather horrid weather the clouds prevented viewing of the night sky. Instead the assembled audience heard short talks by 4 CAG members.....
Left to right: Jim Johnston (proof that a beard isn't required to be a keen astronomer or male CAG member!), John Hilton, Mike Lunan & Gordon Mackie (photo by Alan Kennedy).
John Hilton kicked off the evening with a talk describing how seeing Saturn through his fathers homemade telescope at his first CAG event spurred him to take up astronomy as a hobby.
John with his dad's homemade telescope
Well known local astronomer Jim Johnston then gave a talk on aurora entitled "Were you ever out in the Great Alone? The title being a reference to the poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert Service, in which the Northern Lights are mentioned. His talk showed many stunning images of aurora including ones he had captured himself from Bettyhill over the years.
Then in the absence of starry skies outside, frequent CAG speaker Mike Lunan gave a tour utilising planetarium software, describing some of the many interesting objects that can be seen in the night sky during the winter months.
This was followed by a talk by Gordon Mackie on the importance of dark skies for astronomy. It illustrated how the skies in the north of Scotland are some of the least light polluted in Europe. Indeed in some locations they can match the darkest skies available in populated areas of our planet, providing stunning views of the heavens above us (weather permitting!).
Aurora - www.spaceweather.com & www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/3
Stellarium Planetarium Software - www.stellarium.org
Dark Skies & Light Pollution - www.darkskyscotland.org.uk, www.need-less.org.uk & www.mydarksky.com
At the CAG Stargazing Live event (details above) it was highlighted that there was a good chance of sighting aurora in the night sky over the weekend due to an earthbound CME. As predicted aurora were clearly visible across Caithness through breaks in the cloud on the evening of Sunday 22nd Jan. It was good to see them again after a few months without them lighting up our night skies .
Here's a view of them from Thurso Harbour....
A faint red colouration can be seen above the normal distinctive green glow.
...but much better views can be found here http://www.caithness-science.org/index. … id=57#p300 and http://youtu.be/hDpm0F4VpKY
This display was also seen much further south in the UK and even made it into the BBC evening news.
To finish off a busy first month in 2012, Caithness Astronomy Group Chairman Gordon Mackie and STEM ambassador Gary Strachan carried out a stargazing session for some school children at Mount Pleasant Primary School.
Thanks to the clouds clearing the budding young astronomers were treated to telescopic views of the Moon, Jupiter and its 4 main moons, and the beautiful star cluster the Pleiades......
The prominent constellations of Orion, Taurus & Cassiopeia were clearly visible. The Plough was also easy to pick out to the north and it was explained how it could be used to find the North Pole Star.
(Long exposure photo showing the Plough)
To round off a most enjoyable evening a few space related games activities were played....
(Rocket launching - always a favourite!).
The CAG observing event at Castlehill Heritage Centre on the 24th Feb saw the assembled audience enjoy a spell of clear skies. After a brief naked eye tour of the night sky by Mike Lunan various objects were viewed through telescopes. These included Venus, Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades, the Double Cluster, the Beehive Cluster and several more winter night sky objects........
After the observing session, Chairman Gordon Mackie gave two talks - one complementing the sky tours just completed outside and another showing a selection of spectacular photos of Earth taken from orbit. Most of the photos were taken from the following websites....
The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth - http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/
Visible Earth - http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/
Earth Observatory - http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
Landsat - http://landsat7.usgs.gov/index.php
The AGM was held on 25th February in Caithness Horizons. The annual statement of accounts were accepted and the following office bearers and committee members were elected as part of the proceedings:
Chairperson: Gordon Mackie
Secretary: Alan Kennedy
Treasurer: John Keeton
Other committee members: Mike Lunan, John Hilton, Steven Mcconnach
The Caithness Science Fair (www.science03.org/sciencefair2012.html) saw CAG joining in this local event designed to encourage an interest and appreciation of science, engineering and technology......
Above: CAG Treasurer, John Keeton explaining the workings of the universe!
Then on 15th March at Castlehill Heritage Centre CAG hosted a well attended talk on "Jupiter - the King of the Planets" by guest speaker Pauline Macrae from the Highlands Astronomical Society (www.spacegazer.com).
Breaks in the cloud allowed some night sky observations to take place as well including telescopic viewing of Jupiter and Venus which formed a close pairing in the western sky........
As the night came to an end, attendees were treated to the northern lights shining through gaps in the clouds as they left to head home.......
The above 2 photos in this report were taken by CAG member Maciek Winiarczyk.
A few hardy CAG members gathered at Castlehill on a clear evening in late April to observe the Moon and some planets. The opportunity to try out some astrophotography under the clear skies was not wasted either....
Solar Observing with the Thurso Scouts
With the longer days upon us, CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie took advantage of a clear sunny evening and joined a local Scout Group to carry out some solar observing and other astronomical activities to support them obtaining their astronomy badges.
With equipment partly funded by the Institute of Physics in Scotland and the Dounreay Communities Fund the Scouts found out about our local star and see for themselves how violent and turbulent its surface is...
Aurora and Noctilucent Clouds Talks by Ken Kennedy (BAA)
In late May CAG were delighted to welcome BAA Section Director Ken Kennedy to Caithness to give talks on the subjects of Noctilucent Clouds (NLCs) and Aurora. These events were supported through funding from the IoP in Scotland (http://iopscotland.org/) and the Dounreay Communities Fund.
Before the NLC talk we took advantage of the clear skies to do some solar observing.........
The very informative talk covered the nature and formation of these clouds which form 83km above the Earth's surface. The potential link to global warming and the ongoing research including the latest data from the AIMS satellite was also covered.....
The following day saw further stunningly clear skies, enabling solar observing before the talk on Aurora.....
Above photo was taken by Ken Kennedy.
Also at the event were a stunning selection of locally taken aurora and NLC photos. These were displayed during the month of June in the Caithness Horizons cafe gallery, where they generated considerable interest. The images are also destined for display at other events later in the year.
Above photo left to right: Local astrophotographers Stewart Watt and Maciek Winiarczyk talk Ken Kennedy through the colourful scenes on display.
Before heading home Ken had a quick tour of the local area to see the stunning locations that the NLC and aurora observing reports he received were made......
If only the weather was as good the whole time, we'd be able to submit more NLC and aurora observing reports to Ken & the BAA :-)
Transit of Venus - last chance in a lifetime to see the event!
A sizeable crowd gathered early on 6th June at Thurso Harbour for the chance to see this rare event. Unfortunately the Sun did little more than tease the patient observers......
As a consolation those assembled had to make do with videos about the transit and early footage from the SDO satellite, taken when the transit started a few hours earlier.
Extrasolar Planets: from Hot Jupiters to Waterworlds
15th June saw Professor Andrew Collier Cameron of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews visit to give a talk on extrasolar planets. Being at the cutting edge of the currently ongoing research he was able to enlighten the assembled audience in the techniques being used to detect these planets orbiting around distant stars and what the gathered data could tell us about them....
After the talk there was the opportunity to try out some hand made spectroscopes to aid with the appreciation of the importance of spectroscopy in the search for extrasolar planets and in astronomy as a whole......
Being a fan of sea stacks, Prof Cameron couldn't leave the area without a visit to see the impressive Stacks of Duncansby......
August 2012 - Perseid Meteor Shower Observing Event
What a night! A small group of CAG members made their way to Dunnet Head for a dark scenic spot to enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower.
They were well rewarded for their troubles with lots to see - the ISS, lots of meteors, the Milky Way in all its splendour stretching overhead, Jupiter, a crescent moon, Venus, noctilucent clouds and even some aurora.
It was so memorable that we've put a photo taken that night by Stewart Watt in prime position on our Home page - see www.spanglefish.com/caithnessastronomygroup/index.asp
Some other photos from the night can be found here:
And from the other end of the county Maciek Winiarczyk was capturing this - www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIjT-RNvfpY
Annual Open Day
The start of a very busy month saw CAG hold their annual Open Day event in Caithness Horizons. Unfortunately the weather prevented any solar observing, but the assembled audience were able to speak to members of the Group, browse a collection of astronomical materials and watch videos on various space related topics.
Orkney International Science Festival (www.oisf.org)
For the 3rd year in a row Caithness Astronomy Group made the trip across the Pentland Firth to provide content for the Science Festival Family Day event in Kirkwall.
With large numbers attending, this turned out to be a busy day for CAG volunteers Gary Strachan, Alan Kennedy and Gordon Mackie......
As always the observing equipment was a big hit - most couldn't believe that information could be read off boards at the other end of the hall.
And specially "hidden" objects provided an element of surprise for children and adults alike......
Thankfully the Sun made a brief guest appearance late in the afternoon allowing solar observing to take place too.
Other activities involved learning about light & spectroscopy and the magnetism associated with the Sun and Earth.......
Spot the world famous scientist who popped by to see what we were doing.....
Messing about with magnets is always good fun.......
As well as the family day event the visit to Orkney afforded CAG members the chance to do some sightseeing, attend other festival events (there were a few astronomy related ones) and meet members from the Orkney Astronomical Society and the Highlands Astronomical Society.
CAG Members Workshop
On 21st September CAG members and invited guests assembled at Castlehill for the first of two workshops to be held in the autumn of 2012. These gave the members the opportunity to catch up on the latest news and learn a bit from other members on the chosen topics for the evening:
- basic astrophotography with a digital camera and tripod (Gordon Mackie)
- basic image processing (Stewart Watt)
- how to increase your chance of seeing the northern lights (Gordon Mackie)
- With two excellent astrophotographers in the Group there was plenty of hints and tips available on how to work towards output like this........
Stewart Watt setting up to run through the basics of editing night time photos.
During a few gaps in the clouds there was the chance to do a bit of observing, including using our recently acquired 10" reflector (donated by Mr & Mrs Mellor) to look at the Moon......
Unfortunately everyone missed the passage of a fireball across the sky, that was seen across the country later that evening. Never mind, better luck next time!
Camster Cairns Equinox Sunrise
CAG were invited by local expert Peter Darmady, to view and assess the alignment of the Camster Cairn entrances with the rising Sun on the autumnal equinox. Cloud at the time of local sunrise prevented definitive confirmation, but the three entrance corridors appeared to be fairly closely, but not exactly aligned with the direction of the rising Sun.
CAG Secretary Alan Kennedy checking out the inside of the most northerly cairn entrance - a Secretary's role has a wide & varied scope!!
Late September and October saw a flurry of solar activity that in turn led to aurora being sighted on numerous occasions (albeit often through gaps in the cloud cover).
CAG committee members Gordon Mackie and Steven Mcconnach joined visiting guests to the area who were staying at the Pentland Lodge House Hotel - they had travelled to the area to enjoy the dark skies and hopefully see the aurora. All went back home happy as the Merry Dancers were good enough to make an appearance during their visit.....
CAG Members Enjoy Dark Skies at Loch More
An evening of clear skies on the 10th October led to a small group of CAG members making a trip to an excellent dark sky location at Loch More. There was much to look at and photograph.......
[First image of the Milky Way was taken by John Hilton. Other photos taken by Gordon Mackie]
Other photos recently taken by CAG members at Loch More can be found here - www.flickr.com/photos/57299237@N05/8064684959/in/photostream
Wild North Festival Astronomy Sessions
October 13th saw CAG contributing to the Wild North Festival event being held at Dunnet Bay. Unfortunately the weather did not allow us to hold the planned observing sessions (solar in the afternoon and night sky in the evening), but we set up alternative activities instead. During the afternoon we set up a telescope and camera at the Seadrift centre to let show attendees what basic equipment was capable of......
The telescope and camera allowed people to observe ships in the bay as well as wildlife and surfers on the shore. It also allowed more distant objects such as the lighthouse at Scrabster (which was a little over 6 miles away) to be viewed.
Also during the afternoon there was the opportunity to find out how to make your own basic sundial and the popular rocket launching activity for the kids (yound and old!).
With the weather preventing any observing in the evening, a beginners talk on what to see in the night sky was given by CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie at the Castlehill Heritage Centre.
Castlehill Awarded Dark Sky Discovery Site Designation
Caithness Astronomy Group has been successful in its quest to have Castlehill Heritage Centre officially designated as a 'Dark Sky Discovery Site'. It was announced at the end of October that Castlehill is one of eighteen new sites to be so designated - and somewhat surprisingly it's the first one north of Inverness! The eighteen sites have been approved by the Science and Technology Facilities Council-led Dark Sky Discovery programme as safe, accessible areas with reduced light pollution that are good for seeing the stars.
The above photo shows Hugh Crowden accepting the Dark Sky Discovery Site Certificate on behalf of the Castlehill Heritage Centre. Presenting the certificate is CAG Secretary Alan Kennedy who assisted in completing and submitting the required nomination documentation.
Any who have visited the site on a clear moonless night will know that it is a superb place to enjoy views of the night sky..........
Above photo of the Milky Way at Castlehill is by Stewart Watt (www.underhighlandskies.com)
Dan Hillier, Project Lead for the Dark Sky Discovery programme who is based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh said "It is great to see this project continuing to grow. The fact that Dark Sky Discovery continues to gain such momentum is testament to the hard work of all those involved with either nominating local stargazing sites or arranging events for the public to take part in". The Dark Sky Discovery programme aims to involve as many different communities as possible and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to consider taking part in stargazing activities.
A delighted Gordon Mackie, Chairman of Caithness Astronomy Group, was keen to emphasise the benefits of Castlehill "The Northern Highlands of Scotland are lucky enough to have some of the darkest skies in Western Europe and it's great to see the first Dark Sky Discovery Site in the far north of the UK is Castlehill Heritage Centre, where Caithness Astronomy Group hold many of their events."
See also - www.castletownheritage.co.uk
CAG Members Workshop (Part 2)
On 26th October, CAG members and invited guests assembled at Castlehill for the second of two workshops to be held in the autumn of 2012. These gave the members the opportunity to catch up on the latest news and learn a bit from other members on the chosen topics for the evening:
- Navigating the night sky - how to find what you're looking for using star charts, planispheres etc (Mike Lunan)
- Telescope set-up demo (Steven Mcconnach with his 8" goto schmidt cassegrain)
- Observing & photographing the Moon (Gordon Mackie)
- Free software available for amateur astronomers to use (Gordon Mackie & Stewart Watt)
Above photo shows Mike Lunan talking through the use of star wheels for navigating the night sky.
Clear skies allowed time for members to carry out some observing ............
The views through Steven's 8" scope and the CAG 10" reflector were stunning!
"The Future of Spaceflight" - public talk
Mid November saw Duncan Lunan, science writer and director of Astronomers of the Future Ltd give a public talk in Thurso on the the future of spaceflight....
...afterwards he talked about his latest book on stone circles....
CAG Members Aurora Spotting - 23rd/24th Nov
With clear skies forecast and the potential for a double CME impact producing a night of aurora, a few CAG members met up to do some aurora spotting and take some photos.....
Although the display wasn't as good as hoped, it was a memorable night nonetheless.
"Timelapse Photography of the Night Sky" - Talk by CAG member Maciej Winiarczyk
On 13th December CAG gathered for the last scheduled public event of 2012, where the highlight was a talk on timelapse photography by local astrophotographer Maciej Winiarczyk. The well attended talk was held at the Dark Sky Discovery Site location of Castlehill Heritage Centre where some clear skies permitted a brief observing session beforehand......
Then after some warming refreshments the talk began by covering the basics of camera setup and operation for night sky photography.............
....followed by details on how a sequence of photos can then be turned into timelapse videos using freely available software......
Attendees left with an understanding of the time and effort required to produce the stunning clips produced by Maciej over the past year or so - see www.youtube.com/user/spider72wtf
Finally a Thank You...........
Some of the equipment and materials used during the year were obtained by CAG using funds from the the Institute of Physics in Scotland (http://iopscotland.org/) and the Dounreay Communities Fund. Our thanks to these organisations for their generous support that made some of the public outreach activities above possible.
Go to the CAG Library for a full report in relation to this funding.
All photos above were taken by Gordon Mackie unless otherwise stated.