Celestial Pinks and Blues


Who says the dark night sky isn’t colourful? Of course, to the naked eye it mostly is, with the darkness punctuated only with a few red, yellow and blues stars. But expose a camera for long enough and all kinds of colour begins to appear.

This region is above us now, in the Northern Hemisphere evening sky for mid-winter. It’s the boundary area between Taurus and Perseus. Below are the vivid blues of the hot young Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. At top, just squeezing into the frame, is the shocking pink of the California Nebula, a glowing cloud of hydrogen gas in Perseus.

But between are the subtle hues of faint nebulosity weaving all through the Perseus-Taurus border zone. Below are faint cyans and blues from dust clouds reflecting the light of the Pleiades stars. In the middle are the yellow-browns of dark dust clouds hardly emitting light at all, but snaking across the frame to end in a complex of pink and blue straddling the border collectively known as IC 348 and IC 1333. At top, the glowing hydrogen gas of the California emits a mix of red and blue wavelengths, creating the hot pink tones, but fading to a deeper red to the left as the nebula thins out to the east. Throughout, hot blue stars pepper the sky and help illuminate the dust and gas clouds which will likely form more hot stars in the eons to come.

I took this shot last Wednesday night, on one of the few clear, haze-free nights of late. This is a “piggybacked shot,” with the Canon 5D MkII camera going along for the ride on one of my tracking mounts. This final shot is a stack of five 6-minute exposures, highly processed to bring out the faint clouds barely brighter than the sky itself. The camera was equipped with a 135mm telephoto lens, giving a field of view a couple of binocular fields wide. Hold out your hand and your outstretched palm would nicely cover  this area of sky. But only the camera reveals what is actually there.

— Alan, January 29, 2012 / Image © 2012 Alan Dyer

A Prairie Palette of Earth and Sky Tones

Following up on my previous post, here is the wide-angle scene of that same winter moonrise, taken at sunset on January 8, 2012.

This was a spectacular and truly “amazing sky,” with the last rays of the setting Sun illuminating the clouds and the rising Full Moon coming up in the pinks and blues of twilight. It is the big prairie sky at its best.

The wide scene captures dark cloud shadows converging toward the point opposite the Sun, near where the Full Moon sits. These are “crepuscular rays,” a common sight at sunset or sunrise.

— Alan, January 8, 2012 / Image © 2012 Alan Dyer


Winter Moon Rising

Here is the January 2012 Full Moon rising above a decidedly un-January landscape in southern Alberta. A recent spell of unseasonably mild weather has eaten most of the snow, leaving the fields yellow-brown, and a fine colour contrast with the twilight sky.

On January 8 the Full Moon rose into clear skies over the prairie landscape east of my home. This shot captures the pink glow of twilight on the upper atmosphere, above the rising blue rim of Earth’s shadow just on the horizon. A month ago, the Full Moon was in that shadow out in space, being eclipsed at sunrise. Here it is rising at sunset, one lunar cycle later.

I like the prairies, not only for the flat horizons and big open skies they provide, but also for the wonderful palette of colours on Earth and sky.

— Alan, January 8, 2012 / Image © 2012 Alan Dyer


New Year’s Moon

Happy New Year to all! To mark the first day of 2012 here is a view of the quarter Moon as it appeared in the early evening twilight on January 1, 2012.

The coming year promises to be a superb one for stargazing with:

• a wonderful evening appearance of Venus in March and April, including a rare passage through the Pleiades star cluster on April 3

• an array of 5 planets in the evening sky in March

• a partial eclipse of the Sun May 20 (annular if you travel to the SW United States)

• a partial eclipse of the Moon June 4 (at dawn for western North America)

• an amazingly rare transit of Venus on June 5 (North American time)

• a fine year for the Perseid meteors August 12/13

• a daytime occultation of Venus on August 13 (for North America)

• a total eclipse of the Sun from Australia and the South Pacific

• a host of fine Moon and planet conjunctions throughout the year

• and no doubt some fine displays of Northern Lights as the Sun picks up in activity toward its predicted 2013 maximum.

So there should be lots to shoot and blog about in 2012. In 2011, since I started this blog in February, my Amazing Sky blog has served up 103 posts and 14,000 image views, seen by people on 6 continents — I have yet to break into Antarctica! Perhaps in 2012.

Clear skies to all!

— Alan, January 1, 2012 / Image © 2012 by Alan Dyer


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