King and Queen of the Sky


Cassiopeia and Cepheus (50mm 5DII) Sept 29, 2013

Cassiopeia and Cepheus reign over the autumn sky amid the Milky Way.

This is a photo from last night’s shoot, taken on a very clear autumn night with the Milky Way prominent across the sky. I shot sets of constellation images, among them this one framing Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus.

Cassiopeia is the well-known “W” pattern at lower left. Cepheus is harder to pick out – he’s a crooked square at right, topped by a tall triangle, like a child’s drawing of a house.

The Milky Way runs across the frame, peppered with red nebulas, from IC 1396 at far right in the bottom of Cepheus, to the NGC 7822 complex at centre, and the IC 1805 complex at far left. Lots of smaller nebulas dot the scene. At far left is the Double Cluster, two adjacent clumps of stars in the outer Perseus Arm of the Milky Way. Most of the deep-sky objects in this frame lie thousands of light years away in the next spiral arm out from the one we live in, or in the space between the two arms.

Most of the bright stars here are young blue stars. But a couple of exceptions stand out: yellow Shedar (or Alpha Cassiopeiae, the bottommost star in the W and an orange giant), and red Mu Cephei, at far right bordering the round IC 1396 nebula. That star is also known as Herschel’s Garnet Star. It is a red supergiant star 1400 times larger than our Sun and one of the most luminous stars in the catalog.

– Alan, September 30, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Equinox Highway


Equinox Setting Sun (Sept 23, 2013)

Highway One heads into the setting equinox Sun.

I try for this shot every year, and every year I’m thwarted by low clouds over the Rockies to the west.

So here’s the shot from tonight, Monday, September 23, the night after equinox. Had the horizon been perfectly clear tonight the Sun would have appeared right at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway as it set behind the Rockies. Instead, it disappeared higher up and to the left, behind low cloud.

At equinox (fall or spring) the Sun rises due east and sets due west. So tonight, it was shining into the eyes of all the drivers as they headed west into Calgary – a little demonstration of the annual motion of the Sun.

The previous night, Sunday, Sept. 22, I shot a time-lapse movie of the scene, again hoping for a clear shot to the setting Sun. Alas! A neat movie but still not quite what I was after.

There’s always 2014. But I think I need to aim east and catch the rising Sun at equinox instead. The mountains attract too many clouds.

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

 

 

Big Dipper in the Badlands


Hoodoos and Big Dipper #2 (Sept 21, 2013)

The Big Dipper swings behind the Hoodoos in the Red Deer River badlands on a moonlit night.

Last night I headed north to the Red Deer River valley to shoot a time-lapse over the river with the badland hills lit by the rising waning Moon. After finishing that I stopped at the popular Hoodoos tourist attraction on Highway 10 east of Drumheller. I had the place to myself at midnight, and the photo ops around the moonlit hoodoos were many.

These formations form when harder capstone rock prevents the soft lower layers from eroding in the rain.

Hoodoos and Big Dipper #4 (Sept 21, 2013)

The Big Dipper was nicely positioned above the hills as it swings low across the northern horizon in autumn.

Hoodoos in Moonlight #1 (Sept 21, 2013)

Here I aimed back toward the Moon, with its glare muted by high cloud, and backlighting the hoodoos. The stars of Perseus are rising at left. Unlike normal astrophotography, with nightscape work, and certainly time-lapse shooting, clouds can be a benefit.

This was a great spot to end an evening of nightscape shooting.

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

 

Harvest Moon Panoramas


Harvest Moon & Earth Shadow Panorama (Sept 19, 2013)

The Harvest Moon rises into the dark arc of the Earth’s shadow.

What a perfect night this was. The Full Moon rose into a crystal clear sky, tinted with the dark blue shadow of our planet arching across the eastern sky.

The main image above is a 7-section panorama sweeping from northeast to southeast, but centred on the rising Harvest Moon rising almost due east.

The Moon came up just before the Sun set. The panorama below shows that scene. It’s a crop of a full 360°, 45,000-pixel-wide panorama, taken just as the Sun was setting almost due west and the Moon was rising 180° away in the east.

Harvest Moon Panorama (Sept 19, 2013)

I took both panoramas with a Canon 5D MkII and 50mm Sigma lens, with the segments at a 30° spacing. That way I take 12 segments to cover a full 360°, a habit leftover from the days of shooting photo pans for planetarium projection systems consisting of 12 Kodak slide projectors.

 

My previous post showed some still frames from a time-lapse movie of the rising Harvest Moon. The final movie is above, assembled from 670 frames taken at 2-second intervals with the Canon 60Da and 200mm lens. I’ve shot this subject a few times now, but this was my best capture of the rising Full Moon at harvest time, always the most photogenic Moon it seems.

It was a marvellous night for a moonrise!

– Alan, September 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Harvest Moonrise at Sunset


Harvest Moonrise #2 (Sept 19, 2013)

The Harvest Moon rises with pink hues into the deep blue twilight over prairie fields.

This was the scene tonight, September 19, as the Full Moon rose into a clear eastern sky. The view was perfect, with a cloudless horizon (for a change!) and the Moon prominent and pink as it rose into the twilight sky.

The main image is from a few minutes after moonrise. The bottom image, with a dimmer Moon, is from just after moonrise.

In neither case did I punch up the Moon in contrast or colour separately from the sky to make it stand out more than it did in real life. And I certainly did not paste a telephoto lens shot of the Moon into a wide-angle scene. That’s faking it. This is real.

Harvest Moonrise #1 (Sept 19, 2013)

Both frames are from a 670-frame time-lapse sequence, from the Moon first peaking above the horizon to when it rose out of frame at top right. That’s still in processing!

– Alan, September 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Harvest Moonset at Sunrise


Harvest Moonset at Dawn (Sept 19, 2013)

The Harvest Full Moon sets into a prairie scene lit by the rising Sun.

This was the scene this morning, September 19, as the Full Moon set just after sunrise on a perfectly clear morning.

Clear, of course, but for the only clouds in the sky just where I wanted to shoot. However, in this case they did help make the scene, adding more colours to the western sky at dawn.

This was the true Harvest Moon, as moonset occurred only a couple of hours after the official moment of Full Moon. However, the setting moons of Wednesday night, September 18 and Thursday night, September 19 can both claim to also be the Harvest Moon, the Full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

I plan to shoot the Moon coming up again, 12 hours after it set for this photo, and right at sunset tonight.

– Alan, September 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Pleiades Rising Through the Old Farm Gate


Pleiades Through the Old Farm Gate

The Pleiades rises beyond the old farm gate on a moonlit prairie night.

It’s been a wonderful few nights for nightscape photography, with a bright gibbous Moon lighting the golden prairie landscape. Skies have been clear and the nights warm, ideal for 3-hour shoots of old farmsteads and prairie scenes.

I’ve spent the last few nights at the abandoned farm near home, shooting time-lapses. This is from Monday night, and is one frame from a 360-frame dolly-motion time-lapse.

The Pleiades star cluster rises in the east over the old barn and farm gate. A car travels through the coulee, leaving a streak of headlights.

I hope the weather continues, so I can harvest some more images, making time-lapse “hay” while the Moon shines!

– Alan, September 17, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Star-Making Clouds in Cygnus


Cygnus Nebulosity (135mm 5DII)

The centre of Cygnus is laced with an intricate complex of glowing gas clouds.

This is another shot from earlier this week, under ideal skies, in a view looking straight up into Cygnus the Swan. This is a telephoto lens shot of the amazing array of nebulas in central Cygnus, around the bright star Deneb.

At left is the North America and Pelican Nebulas. At right is the Gamma Cygni complex and the little Crescent Nebula at lower right.

Here we’re looking down our local Cygnus-Orion arm of the Milky Way into a region of star formation rich in glowing hydrogen gas and dark interstellar dust. These clouds lie about 1500 to 3000 light years away. Dotting the field are hot blue stars newly formed from the raw ingredients making stars in Cygnus.

At top, the clouds have a lacework appearance, like sections of bubbles. Perhaps these are being blown across space by the high-velocity winds streaming from the young stars.

– Alan, September 13, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Summer Triangle Stars


Summer Triangle in the Milky Way

The trio of Summer Triangle stars flank the Milky Way in the dying days of summer.

I shot the featured image above two nights ago on a perfect late summer night from home. Skies were dark and transparent, with no aurora and little airglow to taint the sky.

The image takes in the Summer Triangle stars of Vega (top), Deneb (left) and Altair (bottom). Vega and Altair straddle the summer Milky Way, but Deneb lies right in the thick of it, way down the Local Arm that we live in. Vega and Altair are nearby normal stars, only 25 and 16 light years away. But Deneb is a blue supergiant, shining from 1400 light years away, and one of the most luminous stars in the catalog.

The Milky Way through this area of sky is riven by twisting lanes of interstellar dust. A particularly dark patch sits above Deneb at top left. Then below Deneb the Milky Way gets split by the Great Rift that continues down into Aquila and Ophiuchus at lower right.

All along this part of the Milky Way, particularly around Deneb, the camera picks up a string of glowing red nebulas where stars are forming. The red comes from hydrogen atoms emitting deep red light, as hydrogen is wont to do.

Summer Milky Way from Backyard (Sept 9, 2013)

This image is from a couple of nights earlier. I used a wider angle lens to take in the full sweep of the summer Milky Way, from Sagittarius skimming the horizon, to Cassiopeia past the zenith at the top. You can see the Summer Triangle in the top half of the image, the part of the sky now overhead on early September nights from the northern hemisphere.

I took both shots with a filter-modified Canon 5D MkII placed on a little iOptron SkyTracker for tracked long exposures (4 to 5 minutes). The main image was with a 24mm Canon lens, the bottom image with a 14mm Rokinon lens.

– Alan, September 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Moon and Venus in the Prairie Twilight


Moon and Venus (Sept 8, 2013)

Tonight, the waxing crescent Moon passed by Venus for a close conjunction in the evening twilight.

At this time of year from my latitude of 51° north, the evening ecliptic always swings low across the southwest. So any fall evening planets, and the Moon, appear low on the horizon and set early.

That was the case tonight, for the close passage of the Moon past Venus (at right). However, their altitude allowed me to capture them and the prairie horizon in the same telephoto lens field.

It was certainly a beautiful sight over the harvested prairie fields, on what feels like an autumn night, though officially it is still summer.

– Alan, September 8, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Great Arc of the Milky Way


Milky Way Panorama (Sept 4, 2013)

The Milky Way sweeps in a great arch of light across the sky.

It’s been a wonderful week for shooting the Milky Way. I had a very clear night on Tuesday but ventured no further than a few hundred feet from home to the harvested canola field next door.

The Milky Way was beautifully placed, as it always is at this time of year, right across the sky from northeast to southwest, with the starclouds of Cygnus passing directly overhead.

The top photo is a panorama of 8 shots, with a camera on a tripod, and each exposure being just 60 seconds with a 14mm lens in portrait orientation. I stitched the segments with PTGui software, rendering the scene with its spherical projection mode which wraps the dome of the sky onto a flat surface in a way that retains the zenith detail as your eye saw it, but greatly distorts the extremities of the scene at either end.

My house is at lower right.

Milky Way over Harvest Field (Sept 4, 2013)

For this image, I used the same lens to take a single view from horizon to well past the zenith. Here the camera was tracking the stars for a set of stacked 5-minute exposures to grab even more detail in the Milky Way.

What stands out as much as the Milky Way are the green fingers of airglow stretching across the sky. These were invisible to the eye but the camera sure picks them up.

Airglow is caused by oxygen atoms, in this case, fluorescing at night as they release some of the energy they absorbed by day. It’s not aurora and generally covers more of the sky, sometimes with a diffuse glow or, as here, with more structured bands that slowly shift over minutes. It varies from night to night and can occur at any latitudes. But usually only cameras pick it up. To the eye, airglow just makes the sky look inexplicably a little less dark than you think it should be on such a clear night.

– Alan, September 7, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Last of the Summer Milky Way


Milky Way over Mountains at Waterton Lakes (Aug 31, 2013)

The summer Milky Way sets behind the peaks of Waterton Lakes National Park, signalling an end to summer.

This was the scene last Saturday night, on a perfect summer night in the Rockies. The glorious starfields of the summer Milky Way are setting behind the mountains.

The Small Sagittarius Starcloud is just above the mountain ridge while above it are the red patches of the Swan and Eagle Nebulas.

Farther up the Milky Way, stars brighten into another starcloud, the Scutum cloud, flanked by two dark lanes of dust. Above it shine the stars of Aquila, Ophiuchus, Lyra, and southern Cygnus. The two bright stars are Altair (below) and Vega (top right).

Summer Milky Way over Mountains (Aug 31, 2013)

This is an alternative view of the same scene, with the camera in “landscape” orientation.

I took both from a pull-off on the Red Rock Canyon road in Waterton. Each image is a stack of four 3-minute exposures, each tracking the stars with the camera on an iOptron SkyTracker.

The Milky Way from Canada just doesn’t get any clearer or the skies any darker.

– Alan, September 3, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Milky Way over Milk River


Milky Way over Writing-on-Stone Park #2 (Sept 1, 2013)

The summer Milky Way sets over the Milk River on the last weekend of the summer.

This was the view last night, Sunday, September 1, from the Visitor Centre hill overlooking the spectacular Milk River valley and the sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta.

The Milk River winds around the park’s campsite, filled on a beautiful long weekend with campers enjoying the clear skies and temperatures in the 30s by day. At night, conditions were perfect. Warm, dry, no bugs, no wind. The best.

I set up two cameras: one for a day-to-night time lapse and one for a time-lapse panning the scene as the Milky Way moved to the west. These two images are frames from the latter.

Above is a shot from later in the evening when the sky was dark …

Milky Way over Writing-on-Stone Park (Sept 1, 2013)

… while this image is from earlier in the shoot, when the last of the blue twilight still lit the sky and the camera was aimed a little more to the east.

On the horizon at left in the image above lie the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana, a prominent landmark in southern Alberta. The yellow sky glows are from towns in northern Montana.

Lights from the campground and car headlights illuminate the landscape and the eroded hoodoo formations.

Writing-on-Stone Park preserves ancient rock petroglyphs that record scenes from before and after contact with Europeans. It is a sacred site to First Nations people and is a marvellous place for stargazing.

– Alan, September 2, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Waterton Lakes Panoramas (Night and Day)


Waterton Lakes Night Panorama #1 (Aug 31, 2013)

Two panoramas compare the view of Waterton Lakes National Park by night and by day.

Last night was as perfect as it gets here in the southwest corner of Alberta. The sky was crystal clear and the wind was calm, unusual for Waterton Lakes.

I spend the night travelling around the Park shooting nightscapes, including this night pan taken from the shoreline in the townsite, again contending with the light pollution of unshielded town streetlights, and the glare from lights on the Prince of Wales Hotel. But even they can’t wash out the marvellous Milky Way.

Just after taking this I went up to the Hotel to shoot scenes from its overlook, back toward the town. As I walked up to the Hotel, a guest was getting out of her car and waving an iPhone around with an astronomy app, hoping to see the stars. I overheard her saying, “I guess we won’t see a lot of stars from here,” referring to the glare of the lights of the Hotel.

The night panorama sweeps from northwest to southwest over 270°. At left we’re looking north toward the prairies. An aurora there would have been well-placed and timed. As it is, there is just the faintest hint of Northern Lights. At right, is the centre of the Galaxy area of the Milky Way.

Stars shine reflected in the unusually clam waters of Upper Waterton Lake.

Sunset at Waterton Lakes Panorama (Aug 31, 2013)

This day panorama takes in a smaller angular sweep. I took it from a similar shoreline location just at sunset, as the last rays of the Sun lit Vimy Peak in alpenglow. Returning to dock on the last voyage of the day is the historic tour boat, The International, a wood-hulled ship built in 1927, the same year the Prince of Wales Hotel opened. It plies these waters every summer and by winter is stored in a dry dock down the lake on the U.S. side.

It’s been a wonderful weekend here. More photos are in the processing pipeline. But for now, it’s off to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

– Alan, September 1, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer