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Past Events - 2017

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.


"The Life Of Stars"

The first CAG event of 2017 (on 27th January) saw CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie covering the stellar life cycle through a guided tour of selected objects visible to amateur stargazers on a winter’s night.

Above image showing the "Winter Hexagon"was taken by Gordon Mackie

Above image was taken by John Hilton

During the event a break in the clouds permitted a brief observing session where attendees received a naked eye tour of some of the objects in the night sky and were able to look through CAG telescopes at a few of the celestial objects mentioned during the talk.

Above image was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

For those wanting a basic overview of the life cycle of stars you might want to check out this short video......



Caithness Astronomy Group - Annual General Meeting

The AGM was held on Saturday 5th February 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: Chris Sinclair
Treasurer: Alan Gerrard

Other committee members: Mike Lunan, John Hilton, Dina Hilton, Alan Kennedy
Membership for 2017 was set at £15 for adults and £25 for family membership (the same as last year).


East Sutherland Camera Club Talk (14th Feb)

With night sky photography becoming more popular, CAG members have received numerous requests to give talks on the topic at venues across the highlands. To date talks have been given at locations as far north as the Orkney Islands in the north and Inverness and Forres to the south. On this occasion Chairman Gordon Mackie visited a bunch of keen photographers at Brora to encourage them to venture out with their cameras after darkness falls.


"Volcanoes of the Solar System" - Members Event (3rd March)

Clear skies permitted this members event to kick off with a stargazing session where a wide range of celestial objects were viewed through CAG telescopes. The showcase objects viewed included the crescent Moon, Venus (also showing a crescent phase), Mars, the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, and the galaxy pairing of Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82).

After a enjoying the star filled skies members retired indoors for some warming refreshments and delicious cakes (courtesy of Neil & Jayne McLean), and a couple of presentations. The first by Gordon Mackie briefly covered the early photography of the Orion Nebula by Henry Draper, and how modern imaging technology makes it a popular target for modern day amateur astrophotographers......

Following on from this Carole Whittaker gave a detailed persentation on the "Volcanoes of the Solar System"....

To help the non-gelogists in the audience better appreciate some of the topics she had brought along some fascinating rock samples, including a form of anorthosite which is a type of rock commonly found on the lunar surface.....

Carole's anorthosite rock sample had a significant amount of the feldspar mineral Laboradorite, which showed a wonderful iridescent (schiller) effect in the light. The lunar anorthosite does not have the large crystals of laboradorite that produce this effect.

It was fascinating to see images of volcanic and other geological features on the surfaces of rocky bodies throughout the solar system.


CAG At The Caithness Science Festival (18th March)

Below are a few photos to show some of the activities CAG had at the Caithness Science Festival Family Day. We had hands on activities related to light and magnetism, using a Raspberry Pi controlled laser to draw constellations etc, binoculars and telescopes to look though, a selection of astrophotos and videos to view, information on those wanting to learn more about astronomy and astrophotography, and the chance to hold space rocks (meteorites), one of which is older than the Earth.

The above image showing Lord and Lady Thurso visiting the CAG set-up and viewing the meteorites was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk.


"The Messier Catalogue - Everything But a Comet" - Members Event (24th March)

At this event members got an overview of the Messier Catalogue of objects generated by french comet hunter Charles Messier, and examples of some of the better ones to view and photograph with amateur equipment....

The above images show the Chairman's favourite Messier objects.......

The Orion Nebula (Messier 42) - a stellar nursery where new stars are being born

The Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) - a neighbouring galaxy to our own

The Pleiades (Messier 45) - a nearby open cluster made up of young hot stars

The Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27) - a planetary nebula formed by a star nearing the end of its life cycle

The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (Messier 13) - a cluster of about 300,000 stars on the periphery of our Milky Way Galaxy



"Living In The Solar System - Where Next?" - Public talk by Peter Darmady

In his talk Wick High School Physics teacher, Peter Darmady took attendees on a tour of our solar system to assess where else humans might be able to live....

By the end of the tour using stunning images from numerous space missions it was quite clear that the Earth is quite a special place and affords by far the best environment for complex life to exist and thrive, so we should look after it.....


"Setting Sail for Orbit: Physics, Tech & Mission Applications of Solar Sail Spacecraft" - Public talk by Professor Colin McInnes

In May, Colin McInnes, Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Glasgow gave a public talk in Thurso jointly hosted by CAG, IET, IMechE and the BSA. The topic of the presentation was the use of solar sails as a promising new form of advanced spacecraft propulsion that could enable exciting new space science missions.

During his time in Caithness Prof McInnes also visited Wick High School to talk to pupils there on the possibilites for future careers in space engineering and supporting the space industry in general.....

Above photo shows Prof McInnes with Wick High School physics teachers Peter Darmady and Neil Lamont.

There was also time to take advantage of some sunny weather and do a bit of sightseeing during travel between talk venues....


CAG Space and Astronomy Learning Activities at Local Schools

CAG regularly get requests from local schools to help with space and astronomy related learning activities. This can be tricky as most of our members work during school hours, however we accommodate whenever we can.

Recently, CAG member and reknowned local astrophotographer Maciej Winiarczyk visited a Wick Primary School and Chairman Gordon Mackie visited Halkirk Primary School to cover a variety of space related topics.....


CAG Members - Equipment Workshop (June 2017)

Early June saw members gather to get the latest news and shaw and talk about equipment. As part of the news update there was info on the recently opened asteroid impact exhibition at Lairg....

Above photo was taken by Ross Mackie


Castlehill Heritage Centre - 10th Anniversary Open Day Event

CAG joined the 10th anniversary celebrations at Castlehill Heritage Centre on the 3rd Jine 2017, with a display that included telescopes, meteorites, a slideshow of locally taken images and other space related info.


CAG Members Perseid Meteor Watch

Mid August saw the return of darker night skies to Caithness and the chance for CAG members to do some meteor spotting.

The Perseid meteor shower provides ample opportunity to see space dust and rock burn brightly as it zooms through the Earth's upper atmosphere. 

There were plenty of shooting stars on show for members who braved the heavy rain showers.There was also the added bonus of a bright moonbow....



CAG At The Orkney International Science Festival Family Day Event

Once again this year, CAG were present at the Orkney International Science Festival. Members Alan Kennedy and Paul Clements attended and provided a variety of astronomical activities and information for those who attended the family event.



CAG Aurora Watch - CME from AR2673

Active region AR2673 on the Sun developed rapidly during early August.

This magnetically complex and unstable region produced a powerful X9.3 solar flare event, which ejected a coronal mass ejection in the direction of the Earth, prompting CAG members to watch out for enhanced auroral activity. Cloud cover parted for a period of time on the evening of the 8th September permitting assembled members at Duncansby Head to see the final stages of the CME induced aurora......

Above image was taken by John Hilton

Above image was taken by Maciej Winiarczyk

An even better view of the northern lights display produced during this geomagnetic storm was obtained from further north. Check out the amazing real time footage captured by Ole Salomonsen in Norway here - https://vimeo.com/233197895



The Grand Finale - The End of Cassini’s 20 Year Mission to Saturn

The first CAG public event after the summer break saw CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie give a presentation on the amazingly successful mission that sent the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft to Saturn.....

The mission had ended the previous week when the spacecraft was deliberately guided into Saturn's atmosphere where it disintegrated and became part of the giant planet it had provided so much incredible images and information on during the 13 year long period it spent orbiting it.

Far more information on the Cassini-Huygens mission can be found via these weblinks..... https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/ http://www.ciclops.org/   & http://sci.esa.int/cassini-huygens/ 

A downloadable ebook is also available.

After the talk there was the chance to venture outside for a quick look through the CAG telescope during brief breaks in the clouds......

Unfortunately it was not until after the event that the clouds departed providing stunning views for those to took the chance to point eyes (and cameras) skywards....

The 3 images above from this event were all taken by Maciej Winiarczyk.


Night Sky Photography Talks

With increasing popularity in night sky photography, CAG members continue to receive requests to give talks on the topic at venues across the highlands. To date talks have been given at locations as far north as the Orkney Islands in the north and Inverness and Forres to the south. Recently Maciej Winiarczyk has been much in demand and this year has given talks for Ffordes in Beauly, Inverness Camera Club and Moray's Astronomy Club SIGMA. At the events he explained the basics and gave lots of guidance on how to capture magnificent images such as the panorama below that he captured at Loch More in Caithness.....

In December CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie made a return visit to Thurso Camera Club to explain in detail how modern digital cameras can be used to capture stunning nightscapes......

.... with the intent to encourage the assembled camera club members to make use of the long winter nights and venture out after darkness falls.


CAG Meets "Steve" During Observing Session

On 13th October members were out observing the autumn night sky with a Meade Schmidt Cassegrain telescope very kindly donated by Jim Johnston, that thanks to some clever engineering work by Stewart Watt was now able to be mounted on a sturdy replacement tripod.....

This scope allowed members to enjoy wonderful views of several Messier objects including Messier 27 - a planetary nebula named the Dumbell Nebula....

Midst session an aurora related phenomenon informally called "Steve" made a special guest appearance, dancing overhead in an arc stretching from eastern to western horizon.....

When clouds spoiled the view from this location a few members relocated to clearer skies at Noss Head where a sky full of stars and a spell of bright aurora could be enjoyed.....


RSPB Dark Skies Event At Forsinard (27th October)

Friday 27th October saw members of the public fill the RSPB Field Centre at Forsinard, for what has become a regular annual stargazing event hosted by the RSPB and supported by CAG since 2015. The evening kicked off with a presentation by CAG Chairman Gordon Mackie, which took the assembled audience on a tour of the Solar System courtesy of images from space missions over the years. The tour looked at the wide range of celestial objects in the solar system and their relative sizes......

Especially for the event CAG had produced a scale model of the solar system based on the walk out to the RSPB Lookout Tower, which would help attendees also appreciate the vast size of our solar system and the universe beyond it.....

With dry weather and clearing skies, attendees joined CAG and the RSPB to walk out to the tower for a short stargazing session, with further details on the scale of the solar system given en route. At the unique observing location provided by the tower, CAG provided sky tours, pointing out some of the constellations on view, the Plough, North Pole Star, Summer Triangle and the Milky Way........


The photographer who took the above two images was Maciej Winiarczyk.

After the guided sky tour ended, attendees could be seen lighting up the temporary solar system trail as they made their way along the walkway over the peat bog and back to Forsinard....


CAG Members Event - Nov 2017

A change to the scheduled content saw Chairman Gordon Mackie briefly provide some advice on suitable winter night sky targets for beginners to try imaging.......

However, for most of the indoor content he ran through recent CAG & Space news stories. This included the details on the magnificent discovery and observation of a neutron star - neutron star merger following detection of associated gravitational waves.....

More on the above story can be found on the LIGO website.

Another international story covered had a Caithness connection. Here it is described by CAG member Jim Johnston, author of the regular "Skywatching" monthly article in the John o'Groat Journal newspaper.

"Caithness Astronomy Group member, Maciej Winiarczyk, has been making quite a name for himself with his excellent timelapse and still photography of the Aurora Borealis largely from scenic locations in Caithness. His latest accolade comes from painter Val Fulford, Professor of Art at Sheridan College of Art in Ontario, who used one of his pictures to create a painting in the style of Van Gogh for display at an exhibition opening in Athens on the 1st of December 2017. The photograph from which the painting was done was shot on 27 February 2014 at Loch of Killimster in Caithness.

The exhibition is in support of the first ever hand painted movie in Van Gogh’s style which is now readily available on the internet and which depicts the last few days of the enigmatic artist’s life.

Herewith, thanks to Maciej, is Killimster Loch (almost) through the eyes of Van Gogh."

The above images are courtesy of Maciej Winiarczyk and Prof Val Fulford.


CAG Space Badge Activities - Reay Beavers

CAG members John Hilton and Gordon Mackie joined the Reay Beaver troop to carry out some educational space related activities that enabled them to obtain the Beaver Space Badge.....


The above photo was taken by the Beaver Scout Leader Ian Pearson


CAG Members Meteors and Mince Pies Event - Dec 2017

Unfortunately the weather once again prevented viewing of the night sky and the chance to see some Geminid meteors. However, gathered members were treated to some delicious cakes baked by Jaye McLean.....

....and a fascinating talk by Keith Nicholson on how looking at the relative ratios of oxygen and other isotopes can shed light on the origin and development of celestial bodies in the solar system...... 

A passing strom prevented viewing of any Geminids on the night, but the following week the 5km wide asteroid 3200 Phaethon was captured during a "close" pass by the Earth......

Phaethon Timelapse Movie

This short timelapse movie shows the motion of Phaethon over a 20 minute period, relative to the background stars. Phaethon is the source of the debris trail that produces the Geminid meteor shower mid December each year.



All images above were taken by Gordon Mackie unless otherwise stated.

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