The Eagle and the Swan


Though they are truly “nebulous,” these clouds of interstellar gas carry fanciful names — our human attempt to make sense of the vast chaotic forms that pervade deep space.

Above is the Eagle Nebula, a.k.a. Messier 16. Below lies the Swan Nebula, a.k.a. Messier 17. Through a telescope to the eye these nebulas do take on the imagined shape of interstellar birds flying along the Milky Way. But long exposure images like this bring out far more than the eye can see. The entire field, here about the width of what high-power binoculars take in, is filled with swirls of hydrogen gas, glowing in its characteristic red colour.

The Eagle Nebula lies in the constellation of Serpens the serpent, while the Swan Nebula lies just over the border in Sagittarius the archer.

I took this shot Saturday night, July 30, 2011, on one the few perfect nights of observing we get here in Canada — the night was warm, dry, with little wind and no mosquitoes. I could venture out with just a sweater on for a bit of warmth. A far cry from the parkas and down-filled boots normally needed.

This field is a first for me from Canada. I’ve shot it from Australia and Chile, where these objects lie overhead, never from home in Alberta at a latitude of 51° North. But the night was so transparent, the field was worth going after, despite it being low on the southern horizon and at its best for no more than an hour after it got dark.

To shoot the field, I used the wonderful little Borg 77mm f/4 astrographic refractor, effectively a 300mm telephoto lens but far sharper and flatter than most telephotos made for sports and wildlife. The camera was the Canon 5D MkII, a filter-modified version that has a special filter for passing more of the deep red colour of hydrogen. But the real difference here was the use of a filter at the focus of the telescope that further isolated the red wavelengths and blocked other colours that might have otherwise fogged the image, especially from a field so low on the horizon. It worked great, though does tend to render the whole field on the red side.

— Alan, July 31, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Sacred Site: The Movie


Here’s my time-lapse sequence of the hoodoos at Writing-on-Stone Park lighting up as the Moon rises and the Milky Way sets.

The sky starts off dark but lights up as the waning Moon, off frame behind the camera, rises and lights up the foreground and sky. The sequence ends as the sky brightens with the onset of dawn.

Waning moons are great nights for this type of shooting as the changing lighting produces dramatic effects as the landscape lights up at moonrise. The problem is, the Moon doesn’t rise till very late, making for a long night of shooting.

I assembled this sequence from 290 frames, each a 60-second exposure, taken at 1-second intervals over about 4 hours. The camera was the Canon 7D and the lens the 10-22mm Canon EF-S zoom at 10mm. I also shot a matching sequence simultaneously with the 8mm fish-eye and Canon 5D MkII camera, for an all-sky sequence for planetarium use.

— Alan, July 30, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

Sacred Site


Standing among these “hoodoo” rock formations at night with moonlight and starlight for illumination was a magical moment. This is a scene at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, that I took last Saturday night, July 23, 2001 at 3 a.m.

It shows the summer Milky Way arching over the sandstone formations, with the rocks lit by the light of the rising waning Moon in the east.

Writing-on-Stone is a sacred site for First Nations people, a place to connect to the spirit world through dreamquests. No one lived here — it was a place haunted by the spirits — people only visited at special times. The rocks were also used to record visions and historic events, in the form of carved petroglyphs that are among the best preserved and most extensive of any archaeological sites in North America. By day or by night, Writing-on-Stone is an inspiring location, carved in the rocks on the banks of the Milk River (see the previous blogs for some panoramic sunset views of the area).

This is one frame of about 300 taken as part of a time-lapse movie, and is a 60-second exposure with the Canon 7D and 10-22mm lens.

— Alan, July 30, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Sunset on the Sweetgrass Hills


My previous blog featured a still frame from a time-lapse movie I took of sunset on the Sweetgrass Hills and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Here’s the full movie, taken at sunset on July 22, 2011.

I assembled the movie in Photoshop Extended CS5 from 678 frames taken over nearly an hour, at 5-second intervals, beginning before sunset and continuing until well after sunset. The camera was the Canon 7D and lens the 10-22mm lens at 10mm.

Putting the camera into automatic Aperture-priority mode keeps the exposure uniform as the lighting level drops but does induce some slight flickering from minor shot-to-shot variations in exposure. That can be fixed in “post!” But it’ll be a while before I get around to that!

— Alan, July 26, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

The Great Lone Land


This is one of the great places for evoking the wide open spaces of the high plains. Here we are looking south over the Milk River and the rock formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta to the peaks of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. The buildings at right are the modern reconstructions of the late 1800’s North West Mounted Police outpost that guarded Canada from the illegals from the U.S. (!) coming up Police Coulee smuggling whiskey from Montana into Canada.

The time is just after sunset, as the last light of the Sun still illuminates the clouds. This is the magic hour for photography, and for taking in the solitude of the “Great Lone Land” as author William Francis Butler described it in his book of that title in 1872.

As Butler wrote, “No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie…”

— Alan, July 27, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Dawn Sky Serenity


Some sky scenes are worth getting up early for. This was the dawn sky this morning, July 25, at about 4:20 a.m., looking east to the rising crescent Moon, which this morning appeared near the Pleiades star cluster. You can see it just above the overexposed Moon.

The waning Moon also sits between two planets now in the pre-dawn sky: Jupiter, the bright object at upper right, and Mars, about the same distance away from the Moon but to the lower left. Mars, the Moon and Jupiter form a diagonal line across the dawn sky that defines the dawn ecliptic. Also in the scene is the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, and the bright star Aldebaran, just below the Moon.

This was a 5-second exposure with the Canon 24mm lens at f/3.5 and Canon 5D MkII camera at ISO 800.

— Alan, July 25, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Stars Over Waterton Lakes II


When I’m doing time-lapse sequences I often run two cameras, one with a wide-angle lens for a frame-filling rectangular view for “normal” HD movies (that’s what’s in the previous blog post), and another camera with a fish-eye lens for a circular format “all-sky” view. These scenes are for projection in full-dome digital planetariums.

This still image is one frame of 470 that I took over four hours on the night of July 20/21, showing the stars and clouds moving in the sky over Waterton Lakes National Park and the stately Prince of Wales Hotel on the bluff across the bay. North is at the bottom of the frame in this shot.

I took this image about 11:30 pm when the sky still had some twilight glow in it and just before the waning Moon was about to rise at right. So the eastern sky has a glow from the impending moonrise. However, the sky is dark enough that the Milky Way shows up running across the sky and down toward the hotel.

You can also see the Big Dipper at left and Cassiopeia at right. The Summer Triangle stars are at top right, in the south. Polaris, the North Star, is dead centre.

— Alan, July 22, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer