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Past Events - 2016

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.


Bright Start to the New Year

A dancing display of the northern lights was visible over much of Caithness as 2016 started. What a way to end the International Year of Light (2015) and see in the new year....

Hogmanay Aurora

The above photo shows the view from the CAG Chairman's back garden in Thurso as 2015 became 2016.


International Year Of Light (2015)

The International Year of Light celebrations are over and we hope those that attended the many varied local events during 2015 enjoyed them. Especially the ones where CAG were involved.

CAG have many more events linked to Light coming in 2016 - we hope you can make it to some of them.

A big thank you to the Institute of Physics in Scotland and the Royal Society of Chemistry for providing funding for the events. An extract from the funding report can be found in the CAG document library.



Caithness "Stargazing Live" Event (15th Jan)

Timed to coincide with the BBC Stargazing Live programmes, CAG held a public event with indoor talks, outdoor guided tours of the night sky and the chance to observe and photograph the Moon through our telescopes.

Thankfully the weather was kind and permitted all who attended to enjoy views of our universe from the Castlehill Heritage Centre - the UK's most northerly Dark Sky Discovery Site.

As an added bonus there were a few astronomical goodies to be had including some produced by CAG members - space themed chocolates made by Ruth Falconer/Caithness Chocolate, a calendar with stunning photos by Maciej Winiarczyk, and a BBC Sky at Night book that contains a photo of star trails over Thurso Castle taken by Stewart Watt.


Stargazing Sessions With the Local Scouts

Clear skies allowed Chairman Gordon Mackie to do some stargazing sessions with local Cubs and Scouts Groups.


Members Workshop (Feb)

A full programme for the evening saw Chairman Gordon Mackie start off with a news update and details of the best star clusters to observe at this time of year. Then Mike Lunan explained H-R diagrams, which are a key tool for astronomers, perhaps comparable to what the Periodic Table is for chemists.

Stewart Watt then demonstrated a number of tablet Apps for astronomers.......

.....before Maciej Winiarczyk and Gordon Mackie guided members through the use of simple motorised mounts that they have for taking long exposure images of the night sky.

Thanks to the skies clearing at this point members got to venture outside under the dark skies at Castlehill and observe various objects through telescopes, and take long exposure images of the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades.

The above image was obtained by Alan Kennedy with his DSLR and long focal length lens (with tuition from Maciej using his motorised mount).

The above widefield image of the Pleiades star cluster and the California Nebula was taken by Gordon Mackie using a Skywatcher Star Adventurer motorised mount.


Night Sky Photography Talks

Recent increase in interest for taking photos of the aurora and night sky in general has meant that CAG have received requests from camera clubs across the Highlands for talks on carrying out this type of photography. So far talks by Chris Sinclair and Gordon Mackie have been carried out at Thurso, Dingwall and Inverness camera clubs, and more are scheduled for the future.


Members Workshop (March)



Caithness Astronomy Group - Annual General Meeting

The AGM was held on Saturday 12th March in Caithness Horizons, Thurso. The annual statement of accounts were accepted and the following office bearers and committee members were elected/re-elected as part of the proceedings:

Chairperson: Gordon Mackie
Secretary: Alan Kennedy
Treasurer: Alan Gerrard

Other committee members: Mike Lunan, John Hilton, Dina Hilton

Membership for 2016 was set at £15 for adults and £25 for family membership (the same as last year).


Astronomy Actitivities with the Watten Brownies & Guides

Gordon Mackie and John Hilton from CAG joined the Watten Brownies and Guides to carry out astronomy related activities that allowed them to obtain their Stargazer badge.....


CAG at the Caithness Science Festival Family Day

As has been the case over recent years, a few CAG members attended the Caithness Science Festival Family Day event. This time CAG took centre stage in the Wick Assembly Rooms main hall - literally.....

It was a busy day with lots of folk attending. Below are a few pics taken during quieter spells when the stage area wasn't full.

CAG had a range of activities and information available, including the chance to use and find out about observing equipment (telescopes and binoculars).......


.....hands on activities relating to light and magnetism, rocket balloon launches for the younger kids........

......and the chance to ask about many different aspects of astronomy.....

There was also a selection of eye-catching images of the night sky taken by CAG members.....


"Sun, Moon & Ancient Stones"

Guest speaker Douglas Scott, author of "Watchers of the Dawn", has spent over 30 years studying the relationship and alignments of more than 100 prehistoric Scottish standing stones and burial cairns to the sun and moon.

In his talk he enthralled the large gathered audience with an informative and entertaining presentation full of images and diagrams from a selection of ancient sites in northern Scotland.

As a thank you, CAG presented Douglas with a selection of local produce, which included some specially made confectionary from Caithness Chocolate in the shape of standing stones...

Above image of Douglas Scott and CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie was taken by Jim Johnston.


"Newsworthy Comets" (6th May)

To kick off a weekend of public events culminating in the Transit of Mercury, reknowned amateur astronomer Denis Buczynski made a return visit to give a talk about newsworthy comets observed through the ages.



"The Sky Is Falling" (7th May)

Those attending this public event at Caithness Horizons heard a talk by CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie on meteorites (space rocks that have fallen onto the Earth's surface. They also got the chance to handle and view in detail a selection of meteorites, including a carbonaceous chondrite believed to be a few hundred million years older than the Earth.

CAG would like to thanks the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh for loan of some of the meteorites used at the event.


Mission Starlight & Space Rocks - Primary School Visit

Before the planned lengthy observing session watching the Transit of Mercury, CAG members Gordon Mackie and John Hilton paid a visit to Pennyland Primary School to  carry out a Mission Starlight UV protection experiment with P5 pupils, and talk about space rocks with P7 pupils. During the latter session the pupils got the chance to see and hold a range of meteorites.


Transit of Mercury Observing Event (9th May)



Thurso Scouts - Space Rocks and Solar Observing


Members Workshop (June)

CAG Members workshop covered a range of topics and activities including Telescope/ Equipment demos, high frame rate solar, lunar and planetary imaging, The Apollo Image Database.


"Aurora: In Search of the Northern Lights" (1st Sept Thurso High School)

The first CAG event following our short summer break saw a welcome return to Caithness by plasma physicist, lecturer, writer and adventurer, Dr Melanie Windridge.

Above image taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

Dr Windridge had visted the area in 2015 to speak to CAG members about their experiences observing the aurora borealis from the northern reaches of mainland UK. This was a small piece of the overall research that was to feed into her recently released book "Aurora: In Seach of the Northern Lights".

Above image taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

[Spoiler alert - aurora stories from Caithness, along with a few aurora photos from her brief visit, appear in Chapter 7 of her book]

This visit saw Dr Windridge give a thoroughly engaging and informative talk covering the history, folklore and science behind the dancing lights often seen from the north of Scotland.

After the talk, the questions and further discussion led to the inevitable sharing of memorable aurora stories.....

If you have any aurora stories you'd like to share with Dr Windridge then a link is available via her blog.

As an added bonus, the audience got the first public screening of a collection of night images and timelapse video sequences captured by CAG members and expertly assembled into a short video by Maciej Winiarczyk.....


Caithness was the first stop by Dr Windridge in a mini tour of the north of Scotland, giving audiences an insight into the Northern Lights. Her next venue was Kirkwall at the Orkney International Science Festival, where members of CAG would also be contributing at astronomy events. Cue the chance for some more aurora spotting opportunities and, for Melanie only (!) the chance to climb the dizzy heights of the Old Man of Hoy. Congratulations on reaching the top!


CAG at the Orkney International Science Festival (2nd-5th Sept 2016)

Stewart Watt, Maciej Winiarczyk and Gordon Mackie from CAG crossed the Pentland Firth this year to contribute to the extensive programme of events organised for the science festival. Our involvement included talks at an astronomy night in Hoy, the Family Day event in Kirkwall, a telescope workshop and evening talk / observing session in North Ronaldsay, and to round off a thoroughly enjoyable weekend there was a session in Kirkwall Grammar School discussing night sky photography with an art class.


CAG at the Hoy Astronomy Evening....

Above image at the astronomy evening on Hoy was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk


CAG at the OISF Family Day Event....

from left to right, Maciej Winiarczyk, Gordon Mackie & Stewart Watt

Above image at the OISF Family Day event in Kirkwall was taken by Dr Melanie Windridge

Above image at the OISF Family Day event in Kirkwall was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

Above 4 images at the OISF Family Day event in Kirkwall were taken by Gordon Mackie


North Ronaldsay Telescope Workshop with CAG......

North Ronaldsay evening event & observing session...

Above 3 images at the North Ronaldsay events were taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

Above image of attendees checking out meteorites at the North Ronaldsay evening event was taken by Gordon Mackie


Night Photography Guidance to Kirkwall Grammar School art class.....

Above image at the Kirkwall Grammar School with Mrs N Watson & Mrs M Montgomerie was taken by Stewart Watt

In between providing content at the science festival events there was a bit of time to enjoy a repeat showing of Dr Melanie Windridge's most enjoyable and informative talk on the northern lights.....

and to explore the islands.....

Above image at the Italian Chapel was taken by Gordon Mackie

Above image at the St Magnus Cathedral was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

Above two images at the the Standing Stones of Stenness were taken by Gordon Mackie

Above image of famous North Ronaldsay Lighthouse and sheep taken by Gordon Mackie

Above image of famous North Ronaldsay Lighthouse at night by Maciej Winiarczyk


Members Workshop (Sept)

CAG Members workshop covered recent CAG and astronomy news, including a recent trip by chairman Gordon Mackie to explore the rock formations currently being studied in relation to a suspected large meteorite impact 1.2 billion years ago in the Lairg region....

Breaks in the cloud also afforded some observing and photography to be undertaken by members.


Dark Skies Event - Forsinard (Oct 2016)

Following a successful stargazing event last year at the stunningly dark location of Forsinard, in the neighbouring county of Sutherland, CAG once again teamed up with the RSPB to put on a free public event at their new Field Centre and Observation Tower in the heart of the Flow Country.

The night started off with videos and illustrated presentations by Gordon Mackie and Maciej Winiarczyk....

Topics on the night included an update on recent space missions, and an introduction to observing and photographing the Milky Way and the Aurora which were visible between gaps in the cloud when attendees ventured to the nearby Observation Tower....

The above photo was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

The aurora was still lighting up the northern sky at the Field Centre as the event drew to a close....

The above photo was taken by Stewart Watt


Stargazing Talk for Murkle WRI (Nov 2016)

CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie paid a visit to the Murkle WRI to give a talk on what can be seen in the night sky from northern Scotland with the naked eye or using basic observing equipment.


"Magnificent Desolation" - Lunar Talk (Nov 2016)

A few days before the largest supermoon in many decades, CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie gave a talk on our nearest celestial neighbour, The Moon.

Although the weather prevented observations of the Moon using CAG telescopes, the talk included lots of detailed images of the Earth's constant companion obtained via space missions and taken by CAG members......

The above lunar images were obtained through a small telescope by Gordon Mackie, and show the sort of detailed views of the lunar surface that can be enjoyed through amateur telescopes.


Meteors & Mince Pies - End of Year Event

Our annual end of year event saw cloudy skies prevent any Geminid meteor spotting opportunities, but there was plenty for assembled members to enjoy, including a selection of delicious cakes provided by Murkle WRI...

The evening also included a fascinating talk by Stewart Watt on the Astronomical Clock in Prague, which he saw whilst on holiday there......

And to round things off Maciej Winiarczyk demonstrated editing Milky Way and Aurora photos - members can now practice all the wonderful hints and tips provided during cloudy evenings over the winter months......



Images in the above records of CAG events were taken by Gordon Mackie unless otherwise credited.

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