Waning Moon in the Sunrise Clouds


Waning Moon at Sunrise (Feb 27, 2014)

The thin waning Moon sits in the red clouds of sunrise on a winter morning.

This was the scene this morning, February 27, just before sunrise when I was able to catch the thin crescent Moon – a waning Moon – amid the sunrise clouds. The Moon just happened to appear in a clearer hole in the clouds, in a blue patch above the pinks and oranges of the clouds. They contrast with the cold blue snow below.

This was a beautiful scene to start the day.

– Alan, February 27, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Moon and Venus in the Winter Dawn


Moon & Venus Conjunction (Feb 26, 2014)This was the scene at dawn on a cold winter morning as the waning Moon appeared near Venus.

The temperature was only -15° C, so rather pleasant compared to the -30° C it has been the last couple of mornings. On February 26, I awoke at 6 a.m. and ventured into the cold winter morning to shoot the conjunction of the crescent Moon beside Venus above the snowy landscape of southern Alberta.

This was not a particularly close conjunction, at least not for us in North America. But its location low on the southeast horizon made the scene attractive and photogenic.

Mars and Saturn in the Winter Dawn (Feb 26, 2014)

I aimed the camera the other way, to the southwest, to catch bright Mars (at right near Spica in Virgo) and Saturn (at left in Libra) above the abandoned farmhouse. The stars of Scorpius shine at left.

So we had three planets visible at dawn this morning, a fine sight to start the winter day.

– Alan, February 26, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Rings Around the Moon


Lunar Halo & Contrail at CNSC (Feb 9, 2014)An ice crystal halo surrounds the Moon while a jet contrail crosses the sky. 

On our last nights earlier this week at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we had a bright gibbous Moon in our sky (as did everyone in the world!). We also had high-altitude clouds filled with ice crystals, the source of the “ring around the Moon” effect. This is a lunar halo, created by moonlight shining through six-sided ice crystals. This halo exhibits rainbow-like colours as well.

But this night, conditions were also ideal for seeing the contrails from jets flying overhead on polar routes from Europe to North America. In the main image above, you can see the jet departing to the west at lower right. Its high-altitude contrail is casting a dark shadow onto the lower cloud deck.

Lunar Halo & Contrail from CNSC Dome (Feb 9, 2014)

This view, taken earlier in the evening shows a more pronounced lunar halo with a horizon-to-horizon contrail shooting straight across the Moon and also casting a shadow.

I used an 8mm fish-eye lens to capture this 360° image of the entire sky. I was able to shoot this image in shirt-sleeve comfort through the rooftop plexiglas viewing dome at the Centre.

Lunar Halo & Winter Sky over the Rocket Range

In this image, taken outside at -25° C, the sky is clearer but still contains enough ice crystal cloud to create a bright lunar halo. When I took this image on February 9 the Moon was to the right of bright star-like Jupiter, and in the middle of the winter stars and constellations, such as Orion just below the Moon.

Lunar haloes can be seen at any season. On any night with a nearly Full Moon embedded in high haze, look up!

– Alan, February 13, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Boreal Aurora


Aurora - Feb 9, 2014 (Snowy Trees #1)The northern lights – the aurora borealis – shine above the trees of the northern forest – the boreal forest. 

This was the scene on Sunday night, February 9, 2014, as the aurora intensified for a few minutes making for a photogenic backdrop to the snow-covered pine trees of the boreal forest.

The landscape looks like daylight but is actually being lit by the light of the bright waxing Moon in the south. These scenes are looking north.

Aurora - Feb 9, 2014 (Snowy Trees #2)

I shot these images as part of my stay at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre where I have been presenting enrichment lectures to two groups of tourists here to see the northern lights during week-long stays. Both groups have been successful in seeing the lights on at least one to two nights of their stay, with the displays usually appearing as sky-spanning arcs overhead.

Aurora - Feb 9, 2014 (Self Portrait)

Here I took the time to take a “selfie” under the northern lights, as the curtains began to wave early in the evening.

In all, it has been a fantastic experience, to witness the lights from a site right under the active auroral oval at 58° north.

– Alan, February 10, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Waves of Northern Lights in Time-Lapse


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Fisheye #3)

Watch waves of aurora wash over the sky rising out of the west to swirl overhead.

This was the spectacle we saw Friday night at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, as the northern lights filled our sky. I set up my camera on the east side of the main building, out of the bitterly cold west wind. The fish-eye lens is aimed west but its view takes in most of the sky.

The bright object at lower left is the Moon.

The still image above is a frame from the 349-frame time-lapse movie below.

Each frame is a 7-second exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 1250. The interval is 1 second.

The movie covers about 45 minutes of time, compressed into 30 seconds. It shows the aurora peaking in intensity, then fading out behind the ever-present thin cloud drifting through all night.

What amazes me are the waves and loops of auroral curtains that come at us from the west (bottom behind the building) then swirl around the zenith overhead. They move off to the east and north at the top of the frame.

Even watching this in real-time the scene was astonishing. The curtains rippled so quickly, forming and reforming over the sky, you didn’t know where to look. As the image above shows, people just stood amazed.

— Alan, February 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

P.S.: You can view a better-grade version of the movie at my Flickr site.

Aurora in Orion


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Observers on the Deck)

Last night, February 7, the Northern Lights danced for us again, starting with a curtain of green and pink in the south.

Our second tour group at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre has been here a couple of days, all under what looked like hopeless cloud. But last night the clouds cleared unexpectedly to reveal a moonlit winter sky.

I completed my evening talk all about the Sun and aurora, during which we were monitoring the auroral activity indicators on SpaceWeather.com. Sure enough, about 9:30 pm, right on cue and perfectly timed for convenience, a curtain of light began to dance across the southern sky, appearing in Orion. The gibbous Moon is just off frame to the right. We began the viewing from the Centre’s second floor viewing deck which looks east and southeast.

Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Over the Rocket Range)

This view shows the auroral curtain over the derelict launch towers of the Churchill Rocket Range. Built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year, the Rocket Range was in use until the mid-1980s as Canada’s only launch facility. Hundreds of sounding rockets, many of them Canadian-built Black Brants, were launched from here, shooting up into the ionosphere on nights just like this to study the aurora.

Orion is at right. While we saw this curtain in our southern sky, others farther south in Canada were seeing it in their northern sky. The greens were easy to see with the eye but the magentas were visible only by the camera and I have punched up their intensity here.

Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Zenith Curtains)

This night, as the aurora display developed it moved north to the zenith, shown here, with the sky also lit by moonlight and with some high haze. But the combination makes for a wonderful abstract swirl of light and colour.

– Alan, February 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Orion over the Rocket Range


Orion over the Churchill Rocket Range

Orion and Sirius shine over the abandoned launch towers of the Churchill Rocket Range.

This was the view Monday night, during a lull in the aurora display when I took a few moments to shoot the stars. You can see Orion at centre, with his trio of Belt stars pointing left and down to Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky. The Belt stars point up and right to Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the bull.

They look closer to the horizon than you might be used to as this is from 58° north latitude.

These winter stars shine above some of the launch structures of the old Churchill Rocket Range. Built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year, the Rocket Range served for many years as Canada’s only launch facility. No satellites were launched here. Instead the towers were used to launch sub-orbital sounding rockets into the ionosphere to explore the aurora.

Some of the rockets were repurposed military missiles, like Nikes and Aerobees. But many were Black Brants, civilian research rockets still being built in Winnipeg by Bristol Aerospace. 

But no Black Brants take off from here now. The Rocket Range was shut down in the mid-1980s as Canada’s space program focused on satellites, the Space Shuttle, and sending astronauts into space. Attempts by private companies to revive the site have all failed and the structures are now becoming derelict, being too costly to remove. 

– Alan, February 5, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer