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Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory

June 21, 2011 7 comments

UPDATE: Voting lines are open! Call 08716268875 to register your support! Calls cost 11p per call from BT landlines. Calls from other networks may be higher and from mobile phones will be considerably more. You can vote up to ten times for each project. You can vote for a project from anywhere in the UK. Calls from outside the UK will not be counted but may still be charged.”

Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory, soon to be located in the north-east of Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, will open later this year. It is a project by Craigengillan Estate, Renfrewshire Astronomical Society, and Doon Academy, and will be a modern, state-of-the-art public observatory under some of the darkest skies in the UK.

The proposed Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory

Excitingly this project – or part of it, namely the purchase of a mobile digital planetarium – is one of two projects in the finals of STV’s “The Jubilee People’s Millions“, and between 9am and midnight on Monday 27 June 2011 members of the public will be asked to vote on which project should get funding. If you’re in the UK please make sure you vote!

You can find out more about the observatory, including planning drawings, at the Renfrewshire Astronomical Society website forum.

Craigengillan Observatory Planning Drawing

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Dark Sky Travels with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

February 5, 2011 1 comment

I just heard today that my grant application to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has been accepted, which means lots of traveling for me later this year!

I applied to the WCMT in late 2010 to visit all of the Dark Sky Places in North America. There are eight of them in total:

This first on the list, and the only one not in the USA is the world’s only Dark Sky Reserve, while the final two on the list are Dark Sky Communities. All the others are Dark Sky Parks.

I aim to spend around a week at each one, studying how they engage with local tourism to promote astronomy as a tourist attraction and thereby boost the economy around the Dark Sky Places. I’ll bring that knowledge back to the UK to help the existing (Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, and Sark, the world’s first Dark Sky Island) and proposed (Exmoor, Peak District, Brecon Beacons, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national parks, and Orkney) Dark Sky Places in the UK.

I’ll be going some time in either September or October 2011, and I’ll be blogging, tweeting and hopefully podcasting throughout my trip.

My thanks go to the WCMT who saw the value in what I proposed to do, and have given me this amazing opportunity!

Geminids 2010 Meteorwatch Podcast

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Galloway Forest Park’s recreation ranger Lucy Hadley has put together a great podcast from recordings she took during the Geminids Meteorwatch event we ran in the Dark Sky Park on 13 December 2010.

You can listen to it here

On the podcast you’ll hear me, Dr Martin Henrdy from the Astronomy Dept of Glasgow University, and Dr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, as we lead the group of meteorwatchers in a tour of the sky. Mainly what you’ll hear though are whoops and squeals of delight as the crowd sees meteor after meteor streaking overhead. A great night!

The Geminids 2010: Status Update

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I spent last night helping run a great meteorwatch event in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, on the evening of the peak of the Geminids Meteor Shower. According to the International Meteor Organisation;

The Geminids is one of the finest, and probably the most reliable, annual meteor shower. Activity exceeds 100 meteors per hour around December 14, with meteors radiating from a point near Castor in constellation Gemini. Geminids are slow, bright and occasionally colorful. Many observers consider the shower to be more spectacular than the famous Perseids in August, but the Geminids are less widely known because of the cold and often clouded December nights in the northern hemisphere.

The latest report from the IMO is that the Zenith Hourly Rate (a measure of the shower’s activity) got up to around 80 meteors per hour at midnight last night, with it due to increase to around 120 at the actual peak at 1100 this morning. This rate will drop off over the next few days, but it’s still worth looking out for some tonight (14 Dec).

We had great clear skies in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, but the temperature was as low as -6°C. Despite the cold, dozens of people turned up to Glen Trool Village Hall to hear Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, deliver an excellent talk on “Collisions, Craters and Impacts”.

After the talk, at 9pm, we drove in convoy a short distance up the road to a large rally car park, where we spent several hours stargazing and meteorwatching. We were joined by Dr Martin Hendry from the University of Glasgow, and Keith Muir of the Forestry Commission Scotland, and the four of us led the gathered stargazers on a guided tour of the night sky, punctuated by cries of “ooh” and “aah” as meteors streaked overhead.

Galloway Forest Park’s recreation ranger, Lucy Hadley was also on hand recording snippets of interview for her podcast, which will be available in a few days time (watch this space).

The International Meteor Organisation (IMO) was founded in 1988 and has more than 250 members now. IMO was created in response to an ever growing need for international cooperation of meteor amateur work. The collection of meteor observations by several methods from all around the world ensures the comprehensive study of meteor showers and their relation to comets and interplanetary dust.

Geminids Meteor Shower 2010: What You Might See

November 23, 2010 1 comment

The final meteor shower of 2010 is the Geminids, the peak of which falls on the night of the 13/14 December 2010. The Geminids is described by the IMO as “one of the finest, and probably the most reliable, of the major annual showers presently observable”, and this year’s shower is set to put on a good show. (You can read the IMO’s rather technical summary of the 2010 Geminids here: http://www.imo.net/calendar/2010#gem)

It won't look like this

The predicted Zenith Hourly Rate (see my previous post about ZHR and what it actually means here) is around 120. Although the peak is predicted to occur around 1100 on 14 December, it should happen some time between 1840 on 13 December and 1600 on 14 December 2010. The best time for the peak to occur for stargazers in the UK would be between 0030 and 0600 on 14 December, after the Moon sets but before twilight begins.

The radiant for this shower is actually quite favourable, and if you wait till the Moon sets at around 0030 on 14 December then the only light pollution limiting your view will be man-made. If you observe before the Moon sets then you will lose a few of the fainter Geminids in its glow, but it’s only a first quarter moon, and so will only really have an impact if you’re observing from very dark skies.

Let’s use the equation relating ZHR to actual observations of meteors to work out how many you might see:

Actual Hourly Rate = (ZHR x sin(h))/((1/(1-k)) x 2^(6.5-m)) where

h = the height of the radiant above the horizon

k = fraction of the sky covered in cloud

m = limiting magnitude

In the case of the 2010 Geminids, if observed from the UK, h = 45 degrees. Let’s assume you have clear skies (haha) with k = 0.

The number of Geminids you can expect to see from a variety of observing sites is as follows:

For very light polluted sites, such as city centres m = 3, and therefore you can expect to see only around 8 meteors per hour.

In suburban skies near a city or town centre m = 4, and you’ll see around 15 meteors per hour.

In rural skies where m = 5, you’ll see 30 meteors per hour.

Under very dark skies, where m = 6.5 (i.e. where there is no or negligible effect of light pollution, like in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park) you’ll see up to 85 meteors per hour, once the Moon sets. A first quarter moon will impose a limiting magnitude, even at a very dark site, of around 6, in which case you’ll see a slightly reduced 60 meteors per hour.

Remember, all of these numbers assume perfectly clear skies. If half your sky is cloudy, cut these numbers in half!

How many Geminid meteors will I see?

Where are you observing from? Limiting magnitude Number of Geminids per hour
Very light polluted city centre 3 7 or 8
Suburban Site 4 15
Rural Site 5 30
Dark Sky Site 6.5 85 (after the Moon sets at 0030)

If you fancy a good view of this spectacular meteor shower, then head to Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, where we have an evening of talks and meteorwatching planned, weather permitting!

Britain’s Best Stargazing Locations

Last week’s Sunday Telegraph featured an excellent article on where to go stargazing in the UK.  In that article Norman Miller quotes both me and my friend Marek Kukula, the public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Stargazing

You don't need a telescope to enjoy the show - take binoculars, a hot drink and a deckchair (from the Sunday Telegraph)

“The night sky is an amazing spectacle that 90 per cent of the population doesn’t get to see,” says Royal Observatory astronomer Marek Kukula. Astronomer Steve Owens agrees: “People have been looking at the night sky, telling stories, for the entirety of recorded human history. But when we moved into cities, we lost that deep connection with the universe.”

Specific mention is made of Galloway Forest Park, the UK’s first International Dark Sky Park that I helped establish last year, as well as Exmoor National Park that I’m helping with their application to become a Dark Sky Reserve later this year.

These two top the list of 11 of “Britain’s Best”, but as with all these lists there’s a problem. Namely that you probably don’t live near any of them, or if you do it still means an hour’s cxar ride to the nearest one.

While your local skies are probably significantly more light polluted than the 11 featured in the Telegraph’s list, there will almost certainly be somewhere on the outskirts of your town or city that makes for a not-quite-perfect-but-much-better-than-you-normally-get observing site.

These little hidden gems will be used frequently by your local astronomy society, so find out who there are, join their club, and learn the location of the many dark sky discovery sites dotted throughout the country.

BBC Countryfile in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

The filming that I did a few months ago for BBC Countryfile, in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park,  has just been shown as part of this week’s episode. You can watch it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t0bv and skip forward to 44:10. It lasts about 7 minutes.

BBC Countryfile's Katie Knapman and I, stagrazing in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

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