The Universe as viewed from Strathdearn
The position of the stars and planets in the sky varies depending on the time and where on Earth you view them. This web page has been configured to provide a virtual observatory based in Strathdearn. What you see in these charts is exactly what you'll see if you look upwards from your back garden on a clear night.
Also included are the paths and timings of all major satellites. Particularly impressive are the fleet of 66 Iridium satellites. They fly in low orbits, reflecting the sun off their flat panel antennae to form a kilometere wide 'flare path' on the ground. Their orbits can be calculated with such precision that the flare paths can be predicted to the second. Check the 'Iridium Flare' page and impress your friends by pointing to a seemingly random point in the sky and counting down "...3...2...1...FLARE!" Depending on how near you are to the centre of the flare path, these events can be 100 times brighter than any star.
Look out for the International Space Station speeding low across the south western sky. Viewers in Tomatin will see it over Distillery Woods.The reflective area of the ISS has steadily increased as new modules have been bolted on, so that it is now by far the brightest satellite and several times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star. The Space Station doesn't always rise above the horizon this far north so visit the ISS page for a chart predicting when it is visible from Strathdearn.
Sunrise & Sunset, Moonrise & Moonset, and Moon Phases
As well as the above information, this page features charts of daylight length, sun position, equinoxes, solstices, and visible planets - all times and directions relative to Inverness.
Comets originate in the outer Solar System. A chance collision or a nudge from Jupiter's gravity is usually the cause of them falling towards the sun then looping round it in a vast elliptical orbit lasting from a few years to centuries. Each time they are close to the sun, tons of material boils off them creating a spreading trail of dust particles - the tail of the comet. As the Earth orbits the sun, it sometimes passes through these ancient trails, causing dust particles to burn out in our atmosphere with a bright flash we call a shooting star. We can predict when Earth's orbit will intersect the larger dust trails - it happens at the same time every year - and we call these events meteor showers. Here's a link to a meteor shower calendar.
We see spectacular photos of the Aurora Borealis taken from the North of Scotland and wonder why we rarely if ever see them ourselves. The truth is that it is not just a matter of looking out the window - those photos are usually the result of patience, preparation and special filters. Here are some tips to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights from Strathdearn.
First register with AuroraWatch UK to receive free text, email, Facebook or Twitter alerts when there is a high probability. Once you've received your alert check the '30 minute forecast' here for real-time updates. Differently coloured areas and a red boundary line give a more realistic prediction for our area. At this point it never hurts to check the cloud cover website (see below) because you'll need clear skies to coincide with times of high probability.
If everything's in your favour, find somewhere away from street and house lights and give your eyes 10 minutes to become accustomed to the dark. The view to the north is blighted by the glow of Inverness but that does not necessarily kill your chances. The Northern Lights are caused by charged particles in the solar wind interacting with our atmosphere. A big solar 'storm' can easily cause a wave of these particles to reach our latitude, meaning that the light show will be directly overhead. Your eyes need to tune in. It's like looking for deer on a hill - first you see none, then you spot one, then suddenly you see them everywhere. Once you first spot the faint moving waves of the Aurora - usually green, less often red or purple - and distinguish them from wispy clouds, you'll see the pattern and realise it is spread wide across the sky. The movement is somehow familiar, which isn't strange since it is a natural process you are watching, a bit like seaweed waving in the current.
Satellite Cloud Cover Images
Yeah, yeah, you can just look out the window, but you'd have to get out of your armchair first! This page displays high resolution satellite images of cloud cover over the UK, updated every few minutes. The images are combined to create an animation of cloud movement over the previous hour - one glance at this page is enough to tell you whether a break in the clouds is likely, or whether you should give up hope for the night.
This page has been configured to show solar and lunar eclipses as viewed from Inverness. A couple of hundred miles can make a difference in the timing and degree of an eclipse. For example the total solar eclipse of 2003 was only visible from the North of Scotland - for the rest of the UK it was partial. However for all practical eclipse-viewing purposes, Inverness is near enough to Strathdearn as to make no difference. You will find detailed data and an animation of the next visible eclipse plus a table of all solar and lunar eclipses visible from Strathdearn for the next 3 years.
The BIG picture
OK, these two great links aren't specific to Strathdearn but they certainly illustrate its place in the solar system. Explore this visualisation of global weather (forecast by supercomputers, updated every 3 hours) to see the BIG picture. You can set it to different altitudes and to show either air or sea currents. And talking of the big picture, here is an interactive model of the solar system which depicts where all the planets are at any time. You can move the viewpoint to view Earth from Venus, say, or track comets round the sun.
Strathdearn's street-lights go out at midnight, giving us an opportunity to see fainter celestial objects which might otherwise be swamped by background light. However until Inverness stops wasting electricity by lighting the skies, our view to the north will remain blighted. So if you want a really dark sky for a special astronomical occasion, you may need to travel a bit further afield. Plan an alternative strategy using this light pollution map, centred on Strathdearn. Zoom outwards on this map (using the scroll wheel) until all of the UK is visible and you will see just how lucky we actually are up here (Inverness notwithstanding).
.... and finally
This page shouldn't really be included here, but it's just too good to leave out of the website. A blogger called "scottishscientist" imagines the factors involved in building the world's largest pumped-storage hydro scheme in Strathdearn! A massive dam 300 metres high and 2,000 metres long would be built across the upper glen of the Findhorn. He justifies the plan on the grounds that "most of Europe is within 3,000 km of Strathdearn," and then calculates "To fill or empty the reservoir in a day would require a flow rate of 51,000 metres-cubed per second, the equivalent of the discharge flow from the Congo River, only surpassed by the Amazon" and "The construction of the Panama Canal required the excavation of a total of 205 million cubic-metres of material but the Strathdearn Power Canal would need more excavating and construction work than Panama did."
Perhaps Strathdearn Community Developments should investigate this plan further ... !