Being on the edge of Europe means that the UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in the continent and being the edge of the UK means that we have one of the best areas of dark sky in the country and certainly one of the darkest in Europe. In fact, our night sky can get so inky dark that over 1,000 stars and planets can be visible with the naked eye. All you have to do is go outside on a clear night, give your eyes time to adjust to the dark and then look up. You can even see our own galaxy, The Milky Way, stretching across the sky. This is a privilege that so few people in our county have, so why not come here and let us share it with you.
How Dark is Dark?
So how dark is a dark sky? Well, we have measured the darkness of the sky at various locations here using a device called a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) and have got readings of between 21 and 22.5. To give you an idea of what this means, you would get a reading of around 8 in the middle of a major city such as Glasgow or Edinburgh and a reading of 24 would be measured in a photographer's dark room. So, on some nights, we are very near to total darkness, meaning that this is a great place to enjoy a spot of stargazing.
Where to Go to Enjoy the Night Sky
While you are here you can simply walk out to the front of the house or across the road to the Loch shore to find a spot to view the night sky as it is dark enough here to see the Milky Way and there are good sightlines to the sky in all directions. However, you can go a little further afield if you wish and here are some of the places we would recommend:
Sallachan Beach, Ardgour: Just off the A861 road from Corran Ferry to Rockpool House. Only a 5-minute drive from the ferry on your way here, so a good spot to stop for your first look at the night sky during your stay with us.
Resipole Farm Holiday Park, Sunart:Just a 10-minute walk along the road from us and has a flat grassy area next to the Reception Building with good sightlines in all directions. Be careful not to disturb the residents who are holidaying there.
Loch Shiel Jetty, Acharacle:Just a 10-minute drive from us and down a track just next to the Loch Shiel Hotel. You have a very clear line of sight looking North over Loch Shiel, making it a great place to watch for Northern Lights. Do not go onto the Jetty itself as it can be slippy and therefore dangerous.
Castle Tioram, Moidart: About a 15-minute drive from us, 2 miles down a narrow single track which should be driven with care. Once there you get good lines of sight in all directions except East. From the shore a little north of the car park, at certain times you can look out south and west to see the Milky Way and look North to catch the Northern Lights. Do not go out to the Castle as you may get caught out with the tide.
When to Look at the Night Sky
It is best to look when the sky is completely dark, in the time window between 2 hours after sunset and 2 hours before sunrise. As we are pretty far North, this means that the best times of year to look are Autumn, Winter and Spring when the nights are long and dark enough. Also, the light from the moon can make it difficult to see the stars, so it is best to look when there is little or no moon in the sky. Given this it is best to check our local sun and moon times to decide when best to go out. You should also check the weather for when clear nights are forecast.
How to Look at the Night Sky
Use your naked eyes – You can see a lot with just your naked eyes. All you need to do is to give them 10-15 minutes to adjust fully to the dark. Use a red torch – Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark it is very easy to lose your “night vision”. Avoid using and looking at bright lights. Instead use a red light, such as a bike light, as this doesn’t affect you night vision. Stay warm – Clear, dark nights are often very cold, so wrap up warm. Wear plenty of layers, a hat and gloves. If you are going to be out for a while, think about using heat wraps or charcoal hand warmers. Use Star Charts – Use a star chart to find your way around. These can be downloaded free from Skymaps.com. Alternatively, you can use a smartphone app such as Pocket Universe.
What to See in the Night Sky
Milky Way – The best way to see it is by looking directly overhead during autumn and early winter evenings and you'll see this shimmering river of light streaming through the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cygnus. Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – They can happen at any time of the year, but the best time is the Autumn and Winter when the sky is really dark, with Autumn being better as it tends to have more clear nights. Check AuroraWatch UK or Aurora Alert for forecasts and alerts. Stars and Constellations – Winter is the best time, when you can look to the south and see the grand constellations of winter: Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Gemini, and Canis Major. These constellations are rich with stars and star clusters, with the most brilliant stars being Capella, Castor and Pollux, Procyon, Sirius, Rigel, Aldebaran, and Betelgeuse. Planets – From March and the onset of Spring, the visible planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn grace our skies after sunset and during the night. First are Mercury and Venus in the west right after sunset, with Venus being the brighter of the two. Next is Jupiter rising in the east around midnight. Mars follows in the time between midnight and sunrise and Saturn appears in early morning. Meteor Showers – They happen at predictable times throughout the year and are best seen when the moon is absent, which will change from year to year. Look out for the annual Quadrantids (January), Lyrids (April), Perseids (August), Orionids (peaks in October), Leonids (November) and Geminids (December). If you do try see them, then spend at least an hour outside doing so as they tend to happen in fits and starts. Check out Earthsky.org’s meteor shower guide for the best times to look.
RELAX IN THE HEART OF THE WEST HIGHLAND PENINSULAS SUNART, MORVERN, MOIDART, ARDGOUR AND ARDNAMURCHAN WILD, UNSPOILT AND BEAUTIFUL