Night of the Northern Lights


All-Sky Aurora #1 (June 28, 2013)

The Northern Lights danced all night, as Earth was buffeted by winds from the Sun.

As soon as I saw the warning notices at Spaceweather.com I was hoping we would be in for a wonderful night of aurora watching. I wasn’t disappointed.

Forewarned, I headed out to the Wintering Hills Wind Farm near my home in southern Alberta. I thought it would be neat to get shots of the effects of the solar wind from beneath and beside the wind turbines of the farm. The shot above is from a time-lapse movie taken with a fish-eye lens that will look great when projected in a full-dome digital planetarium.

Northern Lights over Wind Farm #3 (June 28, 2013)

I shot with three cameras, with two aimed east to where the brightest part of the auroral arc usually sits. It was also exactly where the Moon would rise after midnight. This shot, above, captures the scene right at moonrise, which was also right when the aurora kicked into high gear as a sub-storm of solar particles rained down on our upper atmosphere. The ground lit up green with the glow of oxygen in the mesosphere, some 100 kilometres up.

Moonrise and Northern Lights

This shot, taken moments later with a longer focal length lens, grabs the waning Moon shining behind the distant wind machines, and beneath the arc of auroral curtains.

In all, I shot 50 gigabytes of raw images, both still images and frames for time-lapse movies. I’ve assembled most of them into a musical collage that honours the night. In the final sequence of the movie, it almost looks like the wind machine is facing into the brunt of the solar wind, as pulses of aurora surge from out of the east toward the turbine towering overhead.

 

The music is by a new favourite artist of mine, the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. His latest album of alt-classical/new age music is called “In a Time Lapse.” How could you not like that?! Buy it on iTunes. It’s stunning.

I hope you got to see the Night of the Northern Lights in person. If not, I trust these images and movies give you a sense of the wonder of what the solar wind can do.

– Alan, June 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Coal Dust Stars


Star Trails over Atlas Coal Mine v2 (June 27, 2013)

The timeless stars turn above a long-abandoned coal mine near East Coulee, Alberta.

For decades, between 1912 and 1979, homes and trains were fueled by coal from the Atlas Coal Mine, one of many in the river valley near Drumheller, Alberta.

Thousands of mine workers populated the boom towns set in the badlands of the Red Deer River. The mines and most of the people are long gone. The Atlas Coal Mine was the last to close, holding out well into the current age of natural gas for home heating and diesel for the trains.

It’s the only mine with buildings that still exist, now as a tourist attraction with daily tours of the mine, both above and below ground.

I spent the evening there last night, the only visitor, except for the owls and coyotes. I was shooting time-lapse sequences and some stills. The shot above is a composite of twenty 1-minute exposures to create the star trails.

Big Dipper over Atlas Coal Mine (June 27, 2013)

For those who prefer a more realistic scene, the short-exposure image above captures the sky more as the eye saw it, with Arcturus and the stars of the Big Dipper shining above the massive wooden tipple.

The Drumheller area is rich in history and photo ops, both for day and night shooting.

– Alan, June 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Night of the Noctilucent Clouds


Star Trails and Noctilucent Clouds (Lighten Stack)

It was a beautiful summer evening, with stars wheeling overhead in a moonlit sky and the only clouds far away and interesting.

This was one of those nights we get once or twice a summer when the much-anticipated noctilucent clouds – the clouds of summer – put on a perfect show. In my previous post I featured an image from early in the night, last night, June 26, 2013.

These are images and time-lapse movies from later in the night. The composite image above shows stars trailing over 90 minutes with the brilliant noctilucent clouds on the horizon, and fringed by a rosy glow of red twilight where the southern edge of the cloud display, which sits over the Northwest Territories, is being lit by a setting Sun with red sunlight filtering through our atmosphere as it passes over the North Pole.

Noctilucent Clouds and Thunderstorm (June 26, 2013)

This telephoto lens shot above captures a close-up of the rosy-fringed noctilucent clouds, behind a lightning-lit thunderstorm rolling through storm alley in central Alberta. The storms can stay there! We’ve had enough of them for a while!

 

My time-lapse sequence extends over about 90 minutes and opens with a wide-angle view of the display as it appeared low on the horizon. What follows are two closeup views that really show the intricate wave-like motion of these high-altitude mesospheric clouds, and their changing lighting and colours.

These are beautiful clouds drifting on the edge of space but it takes time-lapse to reveal their fluid-like motion.

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

 

Thunderstorm and Noctilucent Clouds


Noctilucent Clouds and Thunderstorm (June 26, 2013)

Two very different forms of clouds drift along the horizon: a thunderstorm nearby and low, and noctilucent clouds far away and high.

This was the scene last night, as another thunderstorm to the north of me rolled along the horizon drifting away to the east. A bolt of lightning illuminates the storm clouds. The thunderstorm was over central Alberta, and at the bottom of our atmosphere, in the troposphere.

Meanwhile, in the background, a beautiful display of noctilucent clouds crept along the horizon in the other direction, drifting to the west. These clouds were over the Northwest Territories, a thousand or more kilometres away to the north and 80 to 100 kilometres high, at the top of the atmosphere in the mesosphere.

The NLC display lasted all night, or for at least as long as I was able to stay up and shoot.

This is a telephoto lens shot that zooms into the brightest part of the NLC display.

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

 

Thunderstorm in the Moonlight


Thunderstorm in Moonlight (June 25, 2013)

A thunderstorm rolls across the northern horizon with the stars of Cassiopeia and Andromeda rising.

This was a perfect night for storm shooting. The storm was far enough away to not engulf me in rain and wind, but close enough to show detail and reveal its bolts of lightning. A waning gibbous Moon shone in the south lighting up the storm clouds to the north and turning the sky blue.

Meanwhile the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda were rising behind the storm clouds, a nice contrast of Earth and sky.

I’ve been after a confluence of circumstances like this for a few years. An aurora to the northeast would have been nice as well. But you can’t have everything!

– Alan, June 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Bow River Returning to Normal


Calgary Skyline Panorama

The raging waters of the Bow are subsiding leaving a city to clean up the mess.

This was the scene Tuesday night, June 25, in a panorama I took from a favourite spot overlooking the skyline of Calgary, a place where many news reports emanated from over the weekend.

It is amazing how fast the floodwaters have retreated. The Bow River is still very high and swift, and some parts of the valley are still under water, but the river is quickly returning to its normal channels and size.

Tonight, people were walking and hiking along paths and bridges that three days ago were underwater or closed to all traffic. Indeed, much of what is below me in this photo, including Memorial Drive, was covered with water. Riverside neighbourhoods that were lakes are now streets again, though lined with houses soaked and damaged. Construction crews work to shore up badly eroded banks. The floods have certainly changed the riverbed of the Bow.

And still, in the sky storms and rain continue to threaten. It will be months, if not years, before everything returns to a new normal.

– Alan, June 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Supermoon over Bow River Floods


Supermoon Rise over Floodwaters of Bow River (June 23, 2013)

The supermoon of solstice rises over the floodwaters of the raging Bow River.

The peace of the sky contrasts with the destruction being wrought below on Earth. The Bow River is many times wider than normal and has flooded most of the valley, ruining homes and lives.

This view overlooks the Bow River in the area of Blackfoot Crossing, where I was this afternoon shooting daytime panoramas in the previous blog. I returned this evening to catch the Full Moon as it came up in twilight over the floodwaters.

Supermoon Rise over Floodwaters of Bow River #2 (June 23, 2013)

The rosy Moon contrasts with the deep blue of twilight and Earth’s shadow rising, fringed above by the pink “belt of Venus” effect, visible in the wide-angle shot.

Nearby, people were camped on the hill, refugees from their homes in the valley below now surrounded by water. Fortunately the waters are receding.

– Alan, June 23, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer