Stargazing Weekend at the Torridon by Stephen Mackintosh
The Plough looking north from the grounds of the Torridon resort, just after sunset
I had a fantastic time hosting the first stargazing experience at the Torridon Resort near Achnasheen on the 9th and 10th of November. The hotel is situated in a location of supreme natural beauty and excellent darkness. A quick check on light pollution survey shows the surrounding wilderness sits within Bortle 1 and 2 levels of darkness – a scale used to measure levels of light pollution. Bortle 1 locations are amongst the darkest locations on earth with rich views of the Milky Way and access to thousands of naked eye stars. Locations like this are a growing rarity in western Europe and should be treasured and preserved at all cost.
The Torridon is located in a wilderness location with access to world class dark skies.
A total of four couples were booked onto the stargazing experience over the weekend and the hotel kindly set aside the library as our base of operations. This allowed us to relax, dine and talk about the stars together before we headed out for any excursions.
Weather wise skies were not so favourable on the Friday evening so we elected to take our time with dinner and wait for any favourable breaks. This also allowed me to present an extended talk on stargazing and the science of stars and galaxies. My guests were very nice company and conversation and questions flowed easily. After dinner we elected to head out anyway, despite the weather, and gulp down some fresh highland air up in the exposed hills above loch Torridon!
Saturday dawned with much more promising skies, so we arranged to head out earlier and dine later. When evening came skies parted beautifully allowing us to stargaze from the hotel grounds before heading out in the van to a remote location I had scouted out during a previous visit.
The grounds of the Torridon, the first stars appear during twilight.
Once we arrived and adjusted our eyes the views were marvelous, with a bright Milky Way glistening above us and thousands of naked eye stars accessible from all directions. After taking in views of the Milky Way I took guests on a laser pointer tour of the brightest constellations and pointer stars, stopping at intervals to view beautiful star clusters in binoculars. Some of these included the mesmerising Pleiades, the Hyades and the famous double cluster in Perseus.
A deep exposure image of the band of the Milky Way, visible under dark skies
We also viewed the Andromeda galaxy through binoculars, an entire ‘island universe’ some 2.5 million light years away and containing over 400 billions stars. Conditions were so dark we were also able view some of the more distant galaxies in Ursa Major, like the M81 and M82, which could be framed as two bright objects in binocular views.
Galaxies M81 and M82. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
We also took in some interesting double stars, including the beautiful sapphire and gold pairing Alberio, within the constellation Cygnus the Swan
After our rewarding excursion we returned to the hotel for dinner and I presented a final talk on star clusters and nebulae. Once again we had some fantastic discussions and Q&A over dinner and we parted good friends with the hope of staying in touch.
Please look out for more stargazing activities at the Torridon in the future. For more information on how to book a bespoke Stargazing tour visit the Stargazing Experience page.
Stephen Mackintosh is an outreach astronomer and mathematician based in Inverness. He provides astronomy outreach and stargazing tours via his business Highland Astronomy Tours. Website: modulouniverse.com Facebook: facebook.com/highlandastrotours