Winter Sky in Moonlight


Orion & Winter Stars over Old House

Earlier this week I shot a similar scene with the Moon in the photo, when it was near Jupiter. This is the same sky but 5 days later, on January 26, with the Moon now out of the picture, but serving to light up the landscape.

This is the old house on my property that serves as an occasional foreground for test nightscapes. In this case, I was testing my veteran Canon 5D MkII camera against a new Canon 6D. This shot with the 5D MkII had the best arrangement of clouds and stars and works as a decent enough shot on its own.

You can see Orion dodging the clouds, with Sirius at left, and Aldebaran, Jupiter and the Pleiades at upper right.

So what of the tests? Initial impressions are that as far as noise is concerned (always the bane of astrophotographers) the new full-frame Canon 6D improves upon the 5-year old Canon 5D MkII by a factor of two. Noise looks to be about one f-stop better in the 6D, no doubt due to its new Digic V on-board processor.

What this means is:

• Images taken with the 6D at ISO 6400 have a similar level of noise as do images taken at ISO 3200 with the 5D MkII. ISO 3200 images with the 6D look like ISO 1600 images with the 5D MkII, and so on.

• So, if you were happy with shooting at ISO 1600 with the 5D MkII before, you could now shoot at ISO 3200 with the new 6D and get similar results, but with the added benefit of being able to cut your exposure times in half, always a nice thing to do.

• Or conversely, you could continue to shoot with the Canon 6D at ISO 1600 for the same exposure times as before but get shots with much less noise in them. Always a good thing, too!

It’s great to see camera state-of-the-art advancing.

– Alan, January 27, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Moon and Jupiter Amid the Winter Stars


The Moon near Jupiter in the Winter Sky, January 21, 2013

The Moon lights up a sparkling snowscape on the night it was close to Jupiter, as Orion and the winter stars rise.

The Moon is the bright and overexposed glow at upper right. Look carefully and you can just make out Jupiter above the Moon, almost lost in its glare. Below shines Orion, with Sirius the Dog Star just coming up above the distant trees. The Pleiades, at top above the Moon, complete this winter sky scene from Monday, January 21, 2013.

I’m glad I didn’t have to go far to shoot it, just 20 feet out the front door. Standing there for just 15 minutes was a chore, with a wicked east wind blowing in -18° C temperatures. This was a night that would normally fall below my threshold of tolerance for winter observing. But with the Moon so close to Jupiter it was worth a little pain for the gain of a neat winter sky portrait.

The image is a composite of a long and short exposure, in order to capture Jupiter so close to the Moon which, in a single long exposure, would have overexposed so much its light would have swamped Jupiter.

– Alan, January 21, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Moon Meets Jupiter


Moon & Jupiter (Jan 21, 2013) HDR with 320mm

The cool blue of this scene fits the night – a bitterly cold winter night as the gibbous Moon passed below Jupiter.

This was the view as the sky got dark on Monday, January 21, 2013 with a close conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter underway. The Moon was closer to Jupiter later in the evening but I wanted to shoot it at sunset to capture the duo before for the sky got too dark and the Moon too bright and prone to overexposure. Even so, to capture the scene as your binocular-aided eyes saw it, I combined 4 different exposures for an “HDR” stack.

This is the closest we in North America will see the Moon by Jupiter in a darkened sky until 2026. But just next month those in southern Australia get to see a rare occultation, or “eclipse” of Jupiter by the Moon. It doesn’t get any closer than that!

– Alan, January 21, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Timor Cottage R.I.P.


Magellanic Clouds in Moonlight

Word has reached me that my favourite observing site in the world is gone.

Over the weekend, devastating bush fires swept through Warrumbungles National Park and surrounding areas near Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia. Several dozen homes were lost. Some were homes of friends I’ve made there in my many visits to the area in the last 12 years. Among the buildings burned and lost, Timor Cottage, the rental cottage where I stayed in 2010 and in 2012. Previous posts have extolled the virtues of this site. I’m told it is now ashes. Ironically, just last week I confirmed my booking for it, for a stay in early 2014.

Fortunately, all residents were evacuated safely. No one lost a life, just property.

The nearby Siding Spring Observatory managed to survive the fires largely intact, due in no small part to the fire suppression safeguards implemented in the last 10 years since the fires of January 18, 2003 that destroyed Australia’s other major optical astronomy site, the Mt. Stromlo Observatory. Some lessons were learned. However, they did not help the people living near by, many of whom were Observatory employees. It was, and is, a wonderful astronomy community along Timor Road. I wish them the best in their efforts to rebuild their homes and their lives.

It is life in unforgiving Australia — one month paradise, the next hell on Earth.

– Alan, January 14, 2013 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

An Orion Portrait from Alberta


Orion in Porttrait Format

He’s certainly the sky’s most photogenic mythological figure. Here’s my full-length portrait of Orion the hunter, captured from Alberta.

I’ve shot him many times before but this was a new combination of gear: the Canon 60Da camera and the Sigma 50mm lens, nicely framing the hunter in portrait format. This version of Orion isn’t as deep as the one I took last month from Australia. But skies were darker there, and I used my filter-modified Canon 5D MkII for his Oz portrait, a camera which picks up more faint red nebulosity than does the 60Da, Canon’s own specialized DSLR camera for astronomy. The 60Da does do a very good job though, much better than would a normal DSLR.

For this shot, as I do for many constellation images, I layered in exposures taken through a soft-focus filter, the Kenko Softon, to enlarge and “fuzzify” the stars! It really helps bring out their colours, contrasting cool, orange Betelgeuse with the hot blue-white stars in the rest of Orion.

I shot this January 4 on a fine clear winter night, the classic hunting ground for Orion.

– Alan, January 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Winter Stars Rising


The Winter Sky, Northern Hemisphere

Yes, it’s cold out there, but a clear evening away from city lights this week – or this winter – will reward you with the sight of a rising star-filled sky.

This is the winter sky of the northern hemisphere, rising above a snowy prairie landscape, in a shot I took Sunday night, January 6, 2013. The sky is populated by a ream of bright stars and constellations, anchored by Orion, just below centre. You can see his three Belt stars pointing down to Sirius, just peering above the horizon in the glow of a distant town. Orion’s Belt points up to Aldebaran, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, and bright Jupiter (the brightest object in the scene, above centre), all in Taurus. Above Jupiter is the Pleiades star cluster.

The Milky Way runs down the sky from Auriga to Canis Major. This week, January 6 to 13, is a good week to see the winter Milky Way, as it’s New Moon and the sky is dark.

In this scene the camera was looking southeast about 9 p.m. Sirius has just risen. By midnight the Dog Star shines due south. I used a 15mm wide-angle lens to take in the entire sweep of the winter sky from horizon to zenith. This is a stack of four 4-minute exposures, though the landscape is from just one of the frames, to minimize the blurring caused by the camera tracking the sky. Some clouds moving in add the streaks on either side of the frame. It was a wonderful sky, while it lasted!

And I’m pleased to note that this is my 250th blog post since beginning AmazingSky.net two years ago in early 2011. I hope you have enjoyed the sky tours.

– Alan, January 6, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Jupiter Amid the Clusters of Taurus


Jupiter in Taurus (January 4, 2013)

Look up on a clear night this season (winter for us in the northern hemisphere) and you’ll see a bright object shining in Taurus the bull. That’s Jupiter.

This year Jupiter sits in a photogenic region of the sky, directly above the stars of the Hyades star cluster and yellow Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Above and to the west (right) of Jupiter is the blue Pleiades star cluster.

Over the course of January 2013 you’ll be able to see Jupiter move a little further west each night (to the right in this photo) away from Aldebaran and toward the Pleiades. Jupiter will stop its retrograde motion on January 30. After that it treks eastward to again pass above the Hyades and Aldebaran (returning to where it is now) in early March.

Jupiter’s proximity to Aldebaran and the Hyades makes it easy to follow its retrograde loop over the next few weeks. It’s an easy phenomenon to watch, but explaining it took society hundreds of years and the ultimate in paradigm shifts in thinking, from the self-important arrogance that Earth – and we – were the centre of the universe, to the Sun-centered view of space, with Earth demoted to being just one planet orbiting our star.

I took this image Friday night, January 4, from home as my first astrophoto upon returning to Canada from Australia. It’s a combination of two sets of images: one taken “straight & unfiltered” and one taken through a soft-focus filter to add the glows around the stars and central, brilliant Jupiter. I then blended the filtered images onto the normal images in Photoshop with the Lighten blend mode.

– Alan, January 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer