Tuesday, 29 December 2009

At Moniack Mhor with Dark Sky Scotland

I switched on my computer at 10am on Monday 23rd November and here was a message from Dave Chalton, Dark Sky Scotland Project Officer, asking if I could help out with an event starting that afternoon!!
Well I got on the phone, found out where I would have to go and for how long, then I had to get permission to go!
It turned out that the event was at a writers' retreat at Monaick Mhor, not far off the road from Beauly to Abriachan above Loch Ness. It was an event with a difference. We were to provide the inspiration for a group of Advanced Higher English pupils who were on a creative writing course.
It was just getting dark when I arrived and Jupiter was hanging in the sky just below a beautiful crescent Moon which was bathed in Earthshine. Naturally, by the time we had something to eat, heard the introduction to how the week was structured and Dave and I got my telescope and the DSS big binoculars set up, the wind was howling and vicious showers of rain were scudding through. It was really exposed on the top of that hill.
We waited for a while as Dave explained one of his tasks for the group, (14 girls), the skies cleared and the rain stopped. The wind was still howling and it was perishing cold but everyone came outside and we showed them around the sky using our green laser pointers. It was too windy for telescopes but we had a few pairs of binoculars to pass around and everyone was quite amazed with what they saw. At one point a long persistent meteor trailed across the northern sky, almost parallel to the horizon.
One or two of the girls stayed out longer than I could manage and everyone was there long enough to see Orion's Sword clear the horizon.
Dave and I headed off for our B&B and next morning, we met Hamish at Abriachan Village Hall. After a bit of a delay, we set up the inflatable StarLab in the freezing cold hall and soon after, the minibus with the girls and course tutors, Gerry Cambridge and Magi Gibson rolled in. Dave went through his StarLab show and we fielded a lot of questions then back to Moniack Mhor for some lunch.
In the afternoon, Dave explained how to use Stellarium and I talked to the girls about the Apollo programme.
After dinner, it was far too wet to do any observing so Dave and I hit the road to the hotel where we were staying the night for a few very well earned drams. We needed them, it had been a long day.
Next day, we set off on our separate ways, Dave on a horrendous journey back to Edinburgh in driving rain and a pretty bad gale, me back to Forres in time to pick up my mother in law from the station.
A very different kind of Dark Sky event but hopefully, we were able to provide some material for the rest of the week.

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