Pioneer Harvest Moon


The annual Harvest Moon shines over a scene from pioneering farm days.

One of the last remaining wood grain elevators still stands as a historic roadside attraction near the little hamlet of Dorothy, Alberta. It’s seen better days.

But in its time it took part in many a harvest in the Red Deer River valley. There were once no less three grain elevators here and railway tracks to take away the bountiful harvest. That was back in the 1910s and 1920s when Dorothy was a little boom town. But the prosperity waned in the Depression Years, and never returned. In the 1960s, the railway tracks were pulled up, and two of the elevators torn down.

Now, Dorothy is one of the ghost towns amid the badlands of the Red Deer River valley.

I shot this Saturday night, as the Full “Harvest” Moon rose over the hills, shining in the blue shadow of the Earth. This is one frame of 450 in a time-lapse sequence.

– Alan, September 30, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Harvesting the Wind


The Harvest Moon rises behind a new crop, a wind turbine harvesting the wind.

I shot this Friday evening, September 28, technically the day before Full Moon and the annual Harvest Moon. The location is amid the Wintering Hills Wind Farm northeast of me and south of Drumheller, Alberta.

This is one frame of 450 in a time-lapse sequence going from sunset into twilight with the Moon rising through the clouds. The changing colours were wonderful.

– Alan, September 29, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset on the City


The Sun sets in a ball of fire behind the skyline of Calgary.

For this shot on September 27 I found a spot on an overpass on the Ring Road east of Calgary to look west. Using an app for the iPad, LightTrac, I was able to locate the exact spot where the Sun would set behind the skyline, including the new 50-storey Bow Tower.

Getting the Sun big compared to the buildings means shooting from a distance with a telephoto lens. I used a 200mm and 1.4x extender here.

It would have been nice to have shot from a higher altitude but such places are hard to find east of Calgary where the land flattens out onto the prairie. However, this was a good test of the technique for lining up a rising or setting Sun or Moon with a photogenic foreground. That’ll come in handy this weekend for the Harvest Moon.

– Alan, September 27, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

City of Stars


Some 3 billion years from now we are going to collide with this galaxy.

This is the famous Andromeda Galaxy, now 2.5 million light years from us but getting closer by the day! Andromeda, a.k.a. Messier 31, is the most distant object readily visible to the naked eye. It now shines high overhead for us in the northern hemisphere.

I asked Siri, my iPad assistant, how many stars are in the Andromeda Galaxy, and she said one trillion. She’s right. Recent estimates put Andromeda’s stellar population at 3 or 4 times that of our own Milky Way Galaxy. It’s also bigger. Measuring from the outermost extremities of the disk gives a diameter of over 200,000 light years, twice the size of our home galaxy.

I took this shot last week. It’s stack of five 15-minute exposures with a new Lunt 80mm refractor. The long exposures bring out the faint halo of stars extending beyond the main bright disk, the part you see in a telescope. You can also see Andromeda’s two close companion galaxies: M32, looking like a fuzzy star below the core; and M110, the elliptical galaxy above the core and connected to the main galaxy by a bridge of faint stars.

– Alan, September 27, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Star Birth Site


In contrast to last Saturday’s post, Star Death Site, this is a place where stars are born.

This magenta cloud is where dozens of new stars are forming. One centre of star formation is the finger at right jutting into the hollowed out core of the nebula. Ultra-violet radiation from nearby hot stars is eroding away this dark finger of dust and gas, causing its rim to glow. This is a feature similar to the famous “Pillars of Creation” depicting in Hubble Space Telescope views of another nebula, the Eagle Nebula. However, this giant wreath of hydrogen 3000 light years away has no name, just the catalog number IC 1396. It’s in Cepheus, high in the northern autumn sky.

An added attraction of the scene is the orange star at top, Herschel’s Garnet Star, a.k.a. mu Cephei. This red supergiant is one of the largest stars known. If it replaced our Sun the Garnet Star would engulf all the planets out to Jupiter. Including its profuse radiation emitted in the infrared, the Garnet Star outshines the Sun by 350,000 times. It is squandering its energy so quickly this supergiant is destined to explode as a supernova, perhaps leaving behind a remnant like the Veil Nebula I described in that earlier blog from a few days ago.

These deep space wonders are all part of the great cycle of stardust that fuels the Galaxy.

– Alan, September 25, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

A Ball of Fire Descending


Smoke reddened the Sun and turned it into a ball of fire setting into the west.

This was Monday night, September 24, looking toward the hills in the west end of Calgary. I positioned myself on the north side of the Bow River across from the downtown core, at the top of the river valley to catch the Sun in this telephoto shot. The other camera was taking a time-lapse sequence in a wider scene with the Bow River in view.

We are certainly having some fine sunsets of late, thanks to forest fire smoke.

– Alan, September 24, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Driving into the Equinox Sun


At equinox the Sun sets due west and shines into the eyes of drivers heading west into the sunset.

This was the scene Friday night on Highway 1, heading to Banff out of Calgary. I set up beside the highway to catch the scene of the Sun going down at the end of the road. I was hoping for more smoke and haze to dim the Sun to a clearly defined disk rather than deal with a bright glow. But you shoot what the sky gives you.

This is one frame from a 315-frame time-lapse movie of the traffic madly moving down Highway 1 (a true to life recording!) and the Sun glow setting behind the Rockies.

– Alan, September 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Right Angle Moon


Saturday night was a fine evening for witnessing the geometry of the night sky.

This is sunset on the evening of the autumnal equinox, September 22, 2012, with a first quarter Moon in the sky. The image illustrates the geometry of the quarter Moon’s position, which is always 90° away from the Sun, a quarter of the way around its orbit in its monthly cycle.

In this case, because the Sun (at right) was on the equinox position on the ecliptic, it was setting due west this night (something it does only on the dates of the fall or spring equinox). This put the quarter Moon (at left) 90° away, due south at sunset.

Draw a line from the Moon to your eye (the camera) and then back out to the Sun and it forms a 90° right angle. This geometry holds true for any quarter Moon, but being equinox the Sun and Moon were nicely aligned due west and south, making their right angle arrangement more obvious.

I took this shot from the grounds of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory on the occasion of their monthly Open House.

– Alan, September 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Star Death Site


This is the graveyard of where a star died at the dawn of civilization.

The Veil Nebula, made of several fragments, is the remains of a star that exploded as a supernova some 5000 to 8000 years ago. With a telescope you can see this deep sky wonder high overhead these nights, in Cygnus the swan. A decent sized telescope, say 15 to 25cm diameter, can show a lot of the detail recorded here, but only in black-and-white. It takes a photo to pick up the magentas, from glowing hydrogen, and cyans, from oxygen being excited into shining by the shockwave created as the expanding cloud ploughs into the surrounding interstellar gas.

The whole complex is called the Veil Nebula but the segment at right passing through the star 52 Cygni is called the Witch’s Broom Nebula.

I shot this from home a couple of nights ago during a continuing run of typically fine fall weather, which usually brings the best nights of the year for astronomy. For this shot I used a new Lunt 80mm apochromatic refractor on loan for testing. It works very well! This is a stack of five 15-minute exposures.

– Alan, September 22, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Star Party Sunset in the Badlands


A hundred or so stargazers were treated to a beautiful sunset in the badlands of the Red Deer River valley on Saturday night.

This was the setting for the annual Alberta Star Party, at a campground north of Drumheller, Alberta, amid the late Cretaceous sediments of the badlands. This is big sky country.

Earlier in the week the night sky was clear and inviting. But this night the clouds served only to provide a fine sunset. They failed to disappear after nightfall. However, on a such a night, a good time is still had by all as everyone enjoys the company of fellow stargazers during the last of the fine weather before star party season ends for another year.

I took this 360° panorama with a handheld camera, and stitched the segments in Adobe Photoshop CS6.

– Alan, September 16, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Star Trail Reflections


The stars of the southern sky arc over the peaks of the Lake Louise Range in this half-hour’s worth of exposures.

For this shot I took 35 frames from a 200-frame time-lapse movie and stacked them to create star trails moving over about 25 minutes time when the sky was dark and moonless. I also layered in the moonlit landscape from a frame taken at the very end of the time-lapse sequence when the Moon has risen and was lighting the mountains and trees. So this scene is a bit of a Photoshop fake, but only so far as to merge exposures taken a couple of hours apart from the same fixed camera to combine the sky and stars from when the Moon was not in the sky with the ground from when it was, so the ground isn’t too dark and featureless.

What most people find surprising about star trail shots is the range of colours displayed. Some of the magenta trails come from a little chromatic aberration in the lens. But nevertheless, stars do exhibit lots of colours, but usually only in time exposures like this. As a bonus one frame captures either a meteor or an Iridium satellite flare at right above Mount Victoria.

I took the images for this scene on Friday, September 7, on a shoot at Herbert Lake in Banff.

– Alan, September 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

September Dawn


Here was the scene on September 12, with Venus and the Moon in conjunction in the dawn sky.

Orion stands above the trees, and at top is Jupiter amid the stars of Taurus. The star Sirius is just rising below Orion. And both the Moon, here overexposed of necessity, and Venus shine together below the clump of stars called the Beehive star cluster in Cancer. This was quite a celestial panorama in the morning twilight.

This is a stack of two 2-minute exposures taken just as dawn’s light was breaking, so I get the Milky Way and even a touch of Zodiacal Light in the scene, as well as the colours of twilight. Pity I can’t avoid the lens flares!

– Alan, September 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Milky Way Amid the Trees


This is the classic summer campsite shot, looking up through the trees to the Milky Way.

I shot this Saturday night from a favourite viewpoint in Banff at Saskatchewan River Crossing. The night proved to be less than the perfectly clear I had hoped for, so I settled for Plan B and shots looking up to a nearby nightscape scene, rather than out across a landscape and into horizon clouds. Some drifting clouds in this shot blur the stars.

This is an example of the type of simple nightscape anyone can do with a camera on a tripod. There’s no tracking going on here, just a short 70-second exposure, enough to pick up the Milky Way. The little trailing of the stars that results isn’t objectionable. I could have shortened the exposure and decreased the trailing but only by going to a higher ISO speed like ISO 3200 which, with the Canon 7D camera, is pushing it too much for noise in a shot like this.

Better still would have been to place the camera on a tracking platform. expose longer at an even slower, less noisy ISO speed, and then let the trees blur from the camera’s motion as it followed the stars. It would have simply looked like a windy night.

Or, it’s possible to combine tracked and untracked exposures, one for the sky and one for the ground, using Photoshop magic.

But I did neither here. This is an unadulterated image of the summer sky shining through trees.

– Alan, September 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Milky Way Over Calm Water


This is a scene I’ve been after for some time – the Milky Way and stars reflected in calm water.

In Friday night I was at a small lake, a pond really, at the south end of the Icefields Parkway in Banff. Herbert Lake is small enough it is usually calm and reflective. Friday night was as clear and calm as you could hope for. This image is from the beginning of the night with some blue twilight still illuminating the sky, but no moonlight. The waning Moon did not rise until 11:30 pm. I shot this prior to starting a 3-hour time-lapse from the same position on the lakeshore.

The scene is looking south toward glacier-clad Mount Temple and Mount Fairview near Lake Louise.

This is a single exposure with the Canon 5D MkII and 16-35mm lens.

– Alan, September 9, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Sky on Fire with Northern Lights


At last … a good display of northern lights towering up the sky.

The evening of Tuesday, September 4 provided the best aurora display I’ve seen in recent years. It was fairly bright and reached up to the zenith and beyond into the south. Colours were green, with just a hint of high-altitude red visible to the naked eye. The camera picks up the colours of an aurora better than the eye can see.

I shot this aurora from my rural backyard. The display came up quite quickly over 10 to 15 minutes starting about 11 p.m., and, as usual, started as an arc across the northeast then rose higher to cover all the northern sky up to the zenith, as shown in this horizon-to-zenith image. The light from the waning gibbous Moon just off camera to the right illuminated the foreground. The show was short-lived. By 12:30 a.m. the auroral curtains had faded into obscurity.

– Alan, September 4, 2012

 

The Windblown Stars


 

Here’s the “long” version of an image I posted a few days ago. This combines 430 exposures to make one long star trail image.

A bright meteor appeared in one of the hundreds of 5-second-long exposures and registers in the composite, streaking diagonally across the star trails. The stars circle around Polaris at top. The horizontal streaks are clouds blowing from left to right across the sky during the night. The blades of the windmill in the Wintering Hills wind farm are blurring by the long exposures.

It’s been a productive few nights shooting out at the wind farm, capturing scenes of harvesting the wind!

– Alan, September 3, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Blue Moonrise


This was the Full Moon rising on the night of another much-publicized “Blue Moon.” This was moonrise on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Of course, the Moon doesn’t look blue. Indeed, smoke and dust in the air made it look a dim yellow. Though this wasn’t the official Harvest Moon (that comes next month), it should have been, as around here in southern Alberta the harvest is well underway, thus the swathed fields and hay bales.

The Full Moon sits in the blue band of Earth’s shadow, rimmed on the top by the pink twilight effect called the Belt of Venus, caused by sunlight illuminating the high atmosphere to the east.

A couple of windmills from the large Wintering Hills wind farm add to the evening scene. I’ve spent the last couple of evenings shooting in the wind farm. More images are to come!

For this image, I combined six exposures in a High Dynamic Range stack to compress the wide range of brightnesses. Boosting the colour vibrancy also brings out the twilight colours.

– Alan, August 31, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer