Orion the Hunter, A Full-Length Portrait


Orion is quickly disappearing from the dark night sky now, as spring begins and the winter constellations depart the sky. This is a shot from February, one I only just now processed.

The Belt of Orion really stands out as do the nebulas that wind all through and around Orion. This is a rich region of the sky for star formation.

I took this portrait of Orion using the 50mm Sigma lens, taking four 5-minute exposures and stacking them. In this case each exposure had varying amounts of haze in the sky as light clouds moved in. So the fuzzy glows around stars are from natural causes here, and are not produced by filters (as in the blog from last year called Fuzzy Constellations) or by post-processing. The glows bring out the star colours, particularly orangish Betelgeuse at upper left and blue Rigel at lower right.

This is the first image I’ve processed using the new Beta version of Photoshop CS6 and Adobe Camera Raw 7 software, just released this past week. Very nice indeed! You can download it for free from Adobe Labs. I like the new interface and functions. I’m not sure the final image quality is any better but some of the new features will be very nice for astrophotography and day to day use. Increased speed is promised but I haven’t seen much evidence for that. But this is a Beta version.

— Alan, March 24, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Wow Sky of Winter


The winter sky contains a lot of bright stars but none so bright as Venus and Jupiter now in the west.

This wide-angle shot takes in the evening sky from the duo of planets in the west (right) to Sirius shining brightly in the south (left), with Orion in between. Above and to the right of Orion sit the two big naked eye star clusters of winter: the scattered Hyades and the compact Pleiades.

This was the picture-perfect scene last Tuesday night when I shot other frames of just the planets over the house in the foothills of the Rockies near Bragg Creek, Alberta. This is the wider scene, bathed in the deep blue of twilight.

— Alan, March 16, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Conjunction over Calgary


For my continuing series of Venus-Jupiter conjunction shots, on Wednesday night I stayed in Calgary and shot the planets over the city skyline.

Here Venus and Jupiter shine in the clear evening twilight over the downtown core of the city, now dominated by the new Bow tower. I  didn’t have to venture far for this shot, as the best vantage point and angle for framing the planets over the city was the top of Tom Campbell Hill, right beside the TELUS Spark science centre where I work.

We’ll see if the clear nights continue. But it’s been a good run all this week. The last few blogs show the results from each night’s shooting since Saturday.

— Alan, March 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Mountains, Clouds and Planets, Oh My!


In another in my series of Venus & Jupiter nightscapes, I present this scenic portrait of the planets over a picture-perfect house in the foothills.

This was Tuesday, March 13 with the two planets at closest conjunction. I drove out to a favourite spot of mine, just south of Bragg Creek southwest of Calgary. The clouds hanging over the Rockies parted well enough to reveal the planet pair in the deep twilight and add other colours to the sky.

It was a stunning scene, one I’m sure the residents of the house were completely unaware of. The lights give that away. Wonderful scenery can be appreciated by night and by day.

— Alan, March 13, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Tilting at the Sky (with Venus & Jupiter)


Venus and Jupiter are the planets that just keep on giving! What a photogenic pairing they are proving to be this month.

Here they are behind one of the icons of the prairies, an old water pump windmill, made it would seem by the Flint and Walling Mfg. Co of Kendallville, Indiana, USA, probably in the 1930s or 40s. My area of southern Alberta was once considered too dry for agriculture and it was only irrigation that made the land livable. Individual farm pumps of the dustbowl era were replaced by a mega-project system of canals and reservoirs to water what is effectively a desert. And a windswept one. A blustery Chinook wind was blowing this night.

The pair of planets is at right, tonight in about as close a conjunction as they will get, about 3° apart. The Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in Taurus poke through the clouds at top. The night was quite hazy but the clouds added the yellow colour from Calgary streetlights in the distance. Natural twilight added the blues and purples. Car headlights lit the foreground.

— Alan, March 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Bridging Earth and Sky (Off to Venus and Jupiter)


This was the scene Sunday night, March 11, as Venus edged up to Jupiter in the evening twilight.

To capture the nightscape I hunted around for a spot along the Bow River near home and settled for a site on the banks of the river at the point called Blackfoot Crossing, the traditional heart of the Siksika First Nation land. Here, the Bow River runs north-south for a stretch and the highway crosses the river heading west into the evening twilight, as if off into the sky to meet Venus and Jupiter in conjunction.

I waited until a passing car added the streak of tail lights, heading off into the sunset and starry sky. Nightscapes like this are often best taken when the sky is fairly dark but a longer exposure still brings out the remaining colours of twilight, as well as fainter stars, to make an image enhanced from what the eye might have seen.

— Alan, March 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Marvellous Mid-March Sky


We have a marvellous sky above us these nights, with an array of brilliant beacons in the evening sky.

This wide-angle scene captures the western and southern sky. To the west at right shine Venus and Jupiter. To the south at centre stands Orion. His famous Belt points up to Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. His Belt points down to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major. Above, at top left, is the other Dog Star, Procyon, in Canis Major.

The last vestige of twilight tints the sky deep blue. But some of the red nebulas in and around Orion are beginning to show up as the sky darkens on a late winter night.

I shot this Saturday night, March 10, on the last evening of Standard Time. Now, I and all astronomers have to wait up another hour to see and shoot the wonders of the night sky. Astronomers hate Daylight Saving Time.

— Alan, March 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Venus and Jupiter Converge


Venus and Jupiter are getting closer! To each other that is.

This was the scene Saturday night, March 10, two days before Venus (on the right here) and Jupiter reach their close conjunction in the evening twilight sky. I’m amazed how high the pair of objects are at sunset, with Venus much higher in the sky than it normally appears. We haven’t seen Venus as well as this since 2004.

This is a scenic prairie nightscape, with some ramshackle buildings from a 1940s vintage farmstead near my house serving as a foreground setting for the sky scene above. Headlights from a passing car provided some handy and warm illumination to contrast with the cold blue above.

— Alan, March 10, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Big Black Spot on the Sun Today



This is the news maker of the week, the sunspot group known as Region #1429.

It hit the headlines this past week as it let loose several intense solar flares, triggering geomagnetic storms around Earth and some aurora displays. Even as I took this shot of the Sun on Saturday afternoon, through a normal white light filter, Region #1429 was unleashing another intense flare, visible in red H-alpha light as a brilliant bright spot embedded in the dark sunspot. We can expect some more solar storms heading our way, and perhaps displays of northern lights.

The Sun is picking up in activity and there will be lots more of these headline events over the next few years, as the news media latch onto to any story that promises to wreak mayhem and chaos here on Earth. In reality, these events won’t have much effect on us in everyday life except to create beautiful auroras we can admire.

— Alan, March 10, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Mars Down the Road


Here’s Mars, now at its closest and brightest in two years. Look for it due east in the early evening, as a rising reddish star in Leo.

On March 7, the Full Moon sits next to Mars, making for a fine sight as the pair rise together at sunset.

I took this shot March 4, with the Moon just off the frame at the top. Here, the eastbound county road seems to head off across the Prairies to Mars. It’s got a long way to go. Even at its closest right now, Mars is still 100 million kilometres away.

— Alan, March 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Planet Trio in the West


Look west this week (the first week of March) and you’ll see three planets in a line across the evening sky.

Mercury is lowest in the sky, visible here just above the clouds on the western horizon. It’s bright but easy to miss. To find it, draw a line between Venus and Jupiter and extend the line down and to the right. This week Mercury is putting on its best evening appearance for the year for northern latitudes. You won’t see it higher or brighter than this in 2012.

Farther up the sky is Venus and Jupiter. They are standout objects. As they approach each other over the next week more and more people will suddenly pay attention to them and wonder what they are.

This was the view Sunday night, March 4. The next night a change in the weather brought heavy snow and a blizzard across the Prairies. But clear skies have returned, so enjoy the planets!

— Alan, March 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

A Panorama of Planets


This was a beautiful night, with the array of five worlds stretched across the sky, a parade of planets and the Moon.

Mercury is now at its greatest angle away from the Sun and easiest to see in the evening sky this week for the year, at least from Canadian latitudes. Even so, it is low in the western twilight.

You can’t miss Venus and Jupiter higher in the west. Watch them close up and trade places in mid-March.

Mars is now at opposition, closest to Earth, and rising at sunset. It shines brightly as a red star in the east, 180° away from Mercury. It will be in our sky for several more months.

Orion shines due south amid the clouds. The arc of clouds rather nicely defines the arc of the ecliptic path across the sky, the path along which we always find the planets.

I took the shots for this panorama on Sunday, March 4. I took five segments, each 13 second exposures with a 16-35mm lens, then combined them in Photoshop CS5 with its Photomerge command.

— Alan, March 4, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Mercury Rising Over Calgary


Mercury is elusive but here it is, showing up as a speck over the skyline of Calgary, as it begins its best evening appearance of the year, rising a little higher into the twilight sky each night for the next few evenings.

To find it, follow the line down from the Moon and then bright Jupiter and Venus at upper left and continue that line to the lower right. Just to the right of the tallest building (the new Bow tower) and just above the rooftops there’s a tiny dot of light. That’s the inner planet Mercury. It’ll get higher in the first week of March but not by much. Mercury is bright. It’s just not very high and is easy to miss.

But with Mercury coming into view, and with Venus and Jupiter so prominent now in the evening, and Mars now bright in the east after sunset – look for a red star – we have a nice array of 4 naked eye planets across the sky at once. Saturn comes up later after midnight now. So you can see 5 naked eye planets in one night.

It’s a great evening sky show now in early March.

– Alan, March 1, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer