Floodwaters at Bow River Crossing


SIksika Nation and Bow River Flood Panorama #3

This is not a picture of the amazing sky but a document of what the sky can do when it decides to be merciless.

No one has seen anything like this in living memory, with homes under water and the river swollen to a lake engulfing the Bow River Valley.

These panoramas depict the heart of the Siksika First Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. It was in this valley, where the Blackfoot had traditionally held their summer camps, that Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 between Chief Crowfoot and James Macleod of the NWMP. The history of the area is presented at the beautiful Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre, shown in the image below. We’ve held several popular public stargazing sessions there. It was closed today, ironically due to a lack of safe water.

SIksika Nation and Bow River Flood Panorama #1

It was here at this spot in the Bow River Valley that nomadic hunters could easily cross the river. Up to this weekend a bridge, seen in the distance in the image below, had allowed modern travellers to make the crossing. But no more. The bridge is closed and may never reopen, until it is rebuilt. Today, water was roaring just below the bridge deck. And waters have receded in the last 24 hours.

SIksika Nation and Bow River Flood Panorama #2

There is some fear that a ferry downstream, the Crowfoot Ferry, one of the last river ferries in Alberta, might break loose and crash into the Bassano Dam.

Dozens of homes are underwater and hundreds of people displaced to evacuation shelters. The water came up so fast many people had just minutes to get out.

SIksika Nation and Bow River Flood Panorama #4

Those I spoke to today, including one 68-year-old resident, said they have never seen the Bow flood as bad as this. The high waters, having breached the Carseland Dam upstream from here, are now heading downstream to fill the Bassano Dam and flood the lower Bow and South Saskatchewan River through Medicine Hat. As those upstream clean up, those downstream prepare for the onslaught of water.

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

The Rising of a “Supermoon”


Supermoon Rise (June 22, 2013)

Here is the much hyped Supermoon of 2013 rising into a twilight sky on the wet Alberta prairies.

A clear night for a change, with no storms about. Though one rolled through earlier today. We don’t need any more rain! Thankfully I am high and dry on the Alberta prairie but many friends to the west are not so lucky and have been flooded out, evacuated or have been camping in their homes with power and heat off. Calgary has largely come to a standstill, with the main pastime being watching the rivers rise and fall.

Tonight, after two days of destruction from horrific floods, at least we in southern Alberta were able to enjoy a clear night and the sight of the wonderful solstice Moon rising. This is the closest Full Moon of 2013 and has received an inordinate amount of PR as the “supermoon.”

Supermoon Rise #1 (June 22, 2013)

It certainly did look fine tonight, though in truth no one could ever tell the difference between this “supermoon” and any normal Full Moon.

But perhaps this one is a little special, reminding us that the sky brings beauty as well as destruction.

– Alan, June 22, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Summer Solstice Panorama on the Prairie


Summer Solstice Panorama

This is the prairie night sky taken at the moment of summer solstice.

I shot this 360° panorama in the field near my house just before midnight on June 20, 2013, right about the official time of summer solstice. This is the longest night of the year and the brightest. The presence of the gibbous Moon contributes most of the night light, but there to the north at left you can see the glow of twilight and an aurora. At right, the waxing Moon shines in clouds, surrounded by a faint halo from ice crystals in the clouds.

Nights around solstice are always bright and filled with wonderful colours and atmospheric phenomena.

The tranquility of the solstice scene is in contrast with the horrific weather disaster taking place west of me near the mountains, as record floods from torrential rains wash away roads, railway lines, and houses. Roads are closed in and out of the mountains and entire neighbourhoods of Calgary near rivers are being evacuated.

Everyone knows somebody who is affected. For many this is indeed a very long and stressful night. I hope everyone keeps safe.

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

 

 

A Retreating Prairie Storm


Retreating Thunderstorm at Sunset Panorama

A stunning storm cloud retreats across the prairies leaving clear skies in its wake.

The timing could not have been better. On Monday night, June 17, a thunderstorm retreated to the east at just the perfect time to catch the light of the setting Sun.

As these prairie storms often do, this one left behind clear skies, with a quarter Moon at right to the south and the Sun to the west, off frame but illuminating this amazingly sculpted cloud. Downdrafts in the thunderhead produced the mammatus clouds – the bulbous structures hanging from the thundercloud. The low Sun angle emphasizes their form.

We’ve had a lot of rain and storms lately, but when a storm puts on as fine a show as this one, I’ll take it!

This image is a 3-segment panorama using the Canon 5D MkII and 16-35mm lens at 16mm. I used Photoshop’s Photomerge and Adaptive Wide Angle filter to stitch and straighten the image.

– Alan, June 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way at Solstice


Centre of Galaxy on Horizon (June 9, 2013)

The centre of the Galaxy culminates over a starlit landscape on a night near the summer solstice.

This was last weekend, on the same night I took the images of the aurora and noctilucent clouds featured in the previous two blog posts. But toward the end of the shoot, I turned south to capture this scene, of the Milky Way over a grassy prairie field.

The landscape is lit only by starlight and by the glow of twilight and aurora to the north.

In the sky, the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius are peaking as high as they get for me in southern Alberta. The red giant star Antares is to the right while the bright star clouds toward the centre of our Galaxy are just left of centre. The sky is not dark because of the glow of perpetual twilight at this time of year near solstice.

Deep sky fans will note that the star cluster M7, the southernmost Messier object, is just clearing the horizon.

Remarkably, this is a mere 15 second exposure, at ISO 1600 but with the 24mm lens wide open at f/1.4. Normally I wouldn’t shoot at that wide an aperture as the images look too distorted at the corners of the frame. But for this shot I used the Canon 60Da camera – its cropped-frame sensor records only the central area of what the lens projects so it crops out the nasty stuff at the corners of the frame that would certainly have been detracting had I used the full-frame camera.

But shooting at f/1.4 allowed even this quickie 15-second shot to grab lots of detail in the Milky Way.

– Alan, June 14, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Time-Lapse: Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds


Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds (135mm #1) (June 9, 2013)

What strange clouds these are, moving where there shouldn’t be winds, and forming where there’s barely any air.

These are noctilucent clouds, sometimes called polar mesospheric clouds. Their icy strands form around particles at the top of the atmosphere some 80 km up. There’s almost no air up there so just how these clouds form has always been a mystery. They may be condensing around meteoric dust particles. They may also be more common now than in past decades and centuries, as the upper atmosphere cools due to an odd quirk of global warming that sees the lower troposphere warm while the upper mesosphere cools.

This was the first display of NLCs I’ve seen so far this season. They can only be seen, and indeed they only form, in summer. Sunlight streams over the pole and lights these clouds all night long. They are literally “night-shining” clouds. Only from a latitude range of 45° to 60° north and around summer solstice is the geometry right to see the clouds, usually as electric blue cirrus strands moving slowly along the northern horizon.

The time-lapse movies capture their motion over 30 to 90 minutes of shooting.

 

The 40-second movie contains three clips:

• The first, a wide-angle  view of the amazing aurora that danced in fast accompaniment to the slow noctilucent clouds.

• The second clip, very short, zooms in a little more to the northern horizon. However, I cut that sequence short so I could switch lenses and take the next clip.

• The third scene is with a telephoto lens, framing the east-to-west slow motion of the clouds. I took 4-second exposures at 1-second intervals so it shows some pretty fine motion.

This was certainly one of the best NLC displays I’d seen and my best shot at capturing them.

What was especially rare was seeing them accompanied by auroral curtains actually moving among the clouds (or so it appeared). Both are up high in the near vacuum of near space, but they may have been miles apart in latitude.

– Alan, June 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Northern Lights & Noctilucent Clouds


Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds (june 9, 2013)

Colourful sky phenomena combine to provide a remarkable sky show.

What a night this was! On Sunday, June 9 the aurora kicked off with a burst in the bright twilight but really got going as the sky got dark, shooting beams of magenta and blue up from the main green arc.

Then on cue, streamers of noctilucent clouds appeared low in the north, shining with their characteristic electric blue. These are odd clouds at the edge of space lit by sunlight streaming over the Pole.

Both these apparitions of the upper atmosphere glowed above a horizon rimmed with the orange of perpetual twilight set in a deep blue background sky.

Yes, the camera has brought out the colours more intensely than the eye saw, but nevertheless it was a remarkable evening close to solstice. This is a magical time of year when all kinds of sky glows light the night.

This night the European Einstein ATV cargo craft also flew over, twice, each time about 10 minutes ahead of the even brighter Space Station that it is chasing for a docking later this week.

More images to come from this night, including time-lapses of the Lights and Clouds.

– Alan, June 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer