Skye at night
What the hell are they doing in Staffin?
First a note on the main title. I actually started this post shortly before the death of Sir Patrick Moore . For those of you outside the UK, Moore presented 703 episodes of The Sky at Night, starting in 1957, making it the longest running television programme with the same presenter in history. He was Britain’s greatest ever populariser of astronomy and a gloriously eccentric figure. I can’t claim to know if he would have objected to my appropriating the title or invoking his name, but as he was quite happy to send himself up, I somehow doubt it…
The night sky on Skye is a joy to behold on those occasional clear nights, an astronomer’s paradise. If you look up the milky way (our home galaxy, seen edge on) is clearly visible drifting across the 3000 or so stars that might be seen unaided*.
Admittedly if you look up normally you are, if there is sufficient light, far more likely to see drops of water falling towards you at between something like 3 to 8 metres per second (larger drops fall faster, but break up at around 8 metres per second apparently), and more of them than Patrick Moore ever saw stars through his telescope. They may still be accelerating too, as if the cloud base is just above the chimney pot they won’t have reached terminal velocity. There again, they are just as likely to be coming at you closer to the horizontal at somewhat greater speed…
What got me started on this is that NASA recently released new images of the earth at night (the so-called ‘black marble’), composites of cloud-free night images of the earth taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. I’ve downloaded the ‘big’ image, the Google earth version, and very nice they are too. Here’s the extract covering Skye, slightly enhanced.
You can clearly see the bright light of Portree in the centre, and the lesser lights of Broadford and Kyleachin lower down. We’re not far from the fuzzy blob that is Dunvegan (and you can take that description how you will!) All is as you would expect.
However (there’s always a however – although preferably not at the beginning of a sentence!) when The Guardian (along with other newspapers) published the global image as a centre spread on 7 December it had a few detail images, including the UK, that were not drawn from the ‘Black Marble’ set, and actually date from 27 March. The quality isn’t as good, but the brightest light on Skye seems to be coming from Staffin. Staffin is a small village, yet in this image is almost as bright as Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’ on the extreme right. So what the hell are they doing up there??
*This is the normal figure given as the approximate number of stars visible to the naked eye from one non-light polluted spot on the earth’s surface on a cloudless, moonless night for someone with good vision. There are a lot of qualifiers in there, and I don’t know if this includes other visible objects such as galaxies and nebulae, so if you want to argue about the number go somewhere else…
Currently listening to: Mule Variations – Tom Waits (which, not at all co-incidentally, includes the marvelously paranoid spoken track ‘What’s he building’)