Astronomy / Night Sky

Astronomy / Night Sky

Scotland is fast becoming established as a European mecca for stargazers.  Low levels of light pollution, particularly in the Highlands, give residents and visitors access to fantastic dark skies, with breathtaking views of the Milky Way and, occasionally, mesmerising displays of northern lights.  Dark Sky discovery sites have been springing up in the Highlands to capitalise on this, with nearby Abriachan Forest recently granted Milky Way class status.  

Photographs Copyright and used by kind permission of Jamie Fraser Fernweh Photography. and Claire Rehr.
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Local astronomer Stephen Mackintosh, who helped Abriachan gain its certification,  discusses why the Highlands is such a special place for stargazers and what people should look out for in the night skies.

ÔÇ£For me stargazing is about reconnecting people with the night sky, not just the raw science which is fascinating enough, but also the star lore, mythology and human connections with it.  ThatÔÇÖs something weÔÇÖve undoubtedly lost in recent times not only in terms of light pollution but also our tendency to inhabit virtual spaces within our phones and gadgets.  As a people we seem to be increasingly looking down rather than up! 

 ÔÇÿIn the Highlands weÔÇÖre still fortunate to have access to some of the darkest skies in Europe, and itÔÇÖs something I hope weÔÇÖll do our best to preserve for future generations.  Visitors from populated areas of England and the central belt of Scotland are always blown away by what they can when they get into the wilds under a moonless sky.  Under the right conditions you can see over 5000 stars out here, compared to just a few hundred from urban areas. ÔÇØ

 ÔÇ£For visitors to the South Loch Ness area I recommend just heading out to some high vantage points, killing your lights and letting your eyes dark adapt.  YouÔÇÖll be amazed when you look up.  You can also head up to Abriachan where thereÔÇÖs good access and parking for larger groups of stargazersÔÇØ.  ÔÇ£When the moon is new you can see breathtaking views of the Milky Way galaxy soaring overhead - a humbling reminder that weÔÇÖre just a tiny part of a giant spiral galaxy surrounded by billions of other stellar companions.ÔÇØ 

 ÔÇ£Because of our northerly latitude (57 degrees north) we also have the privilege of witnessing many circumpolar constellations - stars that are always above the horizon.  This lets us become more familiar with specific groupings like the two bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor and rich constellations like Perseus, Draco, Auriga and Cassiopeia.  During the winter months the shorter days up here also lend themselves to extended opportunities for observing.  ItÔÇÖs a rewarding pastime that makes the cold and long winter nights much more inviting.ÔÇÖ

For visitors interested in a private stargazing guiding, Stephen Mackintosh offers private tours via his Highland Astronomy Tours.  Please visit for more details.

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