The Great Lone Land … and Great Big Sky


The Gap Road Panorama (Cypress Hills Park)

A vast blue sky and summer storm clouds arch over a prairie landscape.

This is a place where you are out on the vast open plains, looking much as they would have appeared hundreds of years ago. This is big sky country, in southwest Saskatchewan. I shot this 360° panorama last Sunday, on a road I get to take every few years that is one of the great drives in western Canada.

Some years it is too wet and impassable. Other years it is too dry and closed because of the fire hazard.

This is the Gap Road, a mud track at times between the Saskatchewan and Alberta units of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The road crosses private rangeland but the cattle are the only giveaway that this is a modern scene and not one from the 19th century.

In 1872 the British explorer and adventurer William Francis Butler crossed the prairies and northern plains in the last days of the buffalo culture, before the cattle and ranchers arrived. He called it then The Great Lone Land. You feel that sense in a place like this, out on the open treeless plains. 150 years ago great herds of bison roamed here. And it was here that the North West Mounted Police set up their first outpost in the area, at Fort Walsh, to stop the incursions of the American “wolfers.”

The sky dominates the scene. I spent an hour here, shooting a time-lapse of the approaching thunderstorm, at right, coming toward me from miles away, until it filled the sky and threatened to turn the road back into mud.

It was a wonderful day spent crossing the prairies, and traveling back in time.

– Alan, August 16, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Wheatfield Moon


Wheatfield Moon (Aug 14, 2013)

The waxing Moon shines above a ripening field of wheat on a prairie August evening.

A track winds off through the wheat field toward the western twilight sky, while a waxing Moon shines in the south.

This was the scene tonight just down the county road where I live, on a warm August night on the Canadian Prairies.

For this shot, I assembled a high dynamic range set from eight exposures taken over a range of 8 f-stops, to compress the wide range of brightness into the one photo. Even so, the Moon remains overexposed. But I like shooting these scenes in deep twilight for more saturated colours and for some stars in the sky.

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

 

Sunset from the Cypress Hills


Horseshoe Canyon Sunset (August 11, 2013)

The Sun sets over the pines and prairie of Cypress Hills, Alberta.

Tonight it was too cloudy for meteors. But the sky did provide a very fine sunset.

I was at the Horseshoe Canyon viewpoint on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, to catch a deep-red Sun going down into haze and cloud. This is looking northwest, from the pine-covered hills out over prairie plains of southern Alberta. The image is a high-dynamic range stack of 7 images.

The viewpoint also had an interpretive sign explaining the virtues of dark sky preservation – Cypress Hills Park is a large dark sky preserve – and I was pleased to see one of my photos used as an illustration on the sign. I had sent it to the Park several years ago.

But alas, no meteors in view tonight. And while there were a few visible the night before at the star party, out of 200+ shots I took, not one recorded a decent Perseid meteor! Of course!

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

 

Space Station Over a Star Party


ISS Pass Over Star Party (August 10, 2013)

The Space Station flies over a campground of astronomers awaiting the fall of darkness.

Last night was the main night for summer star parties, being a dark-of-the-Moon Saturday in August. As I usually am each year, I was in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, attending the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. About 330 attended this year, a near record year.

The night was partly cloudy but stayed clear enough for long enough to allow great views. As the sky was getting dark the International Space Station flew over from horizon to horizon, west to east, passing nearly overhead. I had a camera and ultra-wide lens ready and caught the pass in 10 exposures, each 30 seconds long, here stacked in Photoshop. The accumulated exposure time also makes the stars trail in circles around the North Star at upper right.

It was one of many fine sky sights hundreds of stargazers enjoyed this weekend at the SSSP, and no doubt at dozens of other star parties around the continent this weekend.

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

Saturday Night Under the Stars


RAO Milky Way Night (Aug 3) #1

On a summer Saturday night hundreds gathered to enjoy the stars and Milky Way.

What a fine night this was. Last night, Saturday, August 3, I helped out at one of the annual Milky Way Nights presented by the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory. About 300 people attended, under nearly perfect conditions. The few clouds that rolled through later in the night didn’t detract from the views of the Milky Way and deep-sky objects.

Part way through the night I conducted a laser tour of the night sky. It was pretty neat presenting a “planetarium show” under the real stars to about 150 people gathered on the hillside lying on blankets and in lawn chairs. Astronomy outreach doesn’t get much better!

RAO Milky Way Night - Fish-Eye View #1 (Aug 3, 2013)

Folks from the local astronomy club set up their telescopes on the patio for public viewing. This is a fish-eye lens image I took in the twilight for use in an upcoming digital planetarium show I’m working on that will tour people through the Milky Way.

RAO Milky Way Night (Aug 3) #4

A highlight was the opportunity for people to look through one of the largest telescopes in Canada, the 1.8-metre ARC Telescope that is normally used for spectroscopy but can actually be equipped with an eyepiece. Here, observatory director Dr. Phil Langill lines up the telescope on Neptune.

The event went from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. We started these Milky Way Nights in 2009 for the International Year of Astronomy and they have been big hits every summer since, one of the legacies of IYA.

– Alan, August 4, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer