The Thin Moon of May


Thin Crescent Moon in Evening Twilight

May ends with a thin waxing Moon returning to the evening sky.

This was the scene on a fine Friday evening, May 30, as the two-day-old Moon returned to the western sky.

Mercury was not far away, and is in this frame but at far upper right. I wasn’t really framing the shot with Mercury in mind, but the Moon and clouds.

This frame is one of 440 I shot for a time-lapse sequence of the setting Moon and moving clouds. This is the result, nicely deflickered with LRTimelapse software, an essential tool for time-lapse processing.

How many times have I tried to shoot the Moon or Mercury low in the west and been foiled by cloud near the horizon? Notice the rain falling from the western cloud. Some place near Calgary was getting wet!

— Alan, May 31, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Red Rock Coulee Cloudscapes


Red Rock Coulee Cloudscape Panorama

The strange rock formations of Red Rock Coulee, Alberta lie below the cloudscape of a prairie sky.

Yesterday afternoon I visited the Red Rock Coulee Natural Area, a dramatic but little known geologic wonder in southern Alberta. I was inspecting the site for a possible return one night to shoot time-lapse nightscapes. But while there I took the time to shoot daytime cloudscapes.

The image above is a two-section panorama with an ultra-wide 14mm lens.

Red Rock Coulee Cloudscape #1

This image and the one below are other compositions in this very photogenic spot. In the distance lie the peaks of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana.

These odd rock formations are sandstone concretions deposited in prehistoric seas and are apparently some of the largest examples of this type of formation in the world. Iron content gives them their red tone.

Red Rock Coulee Cloudscape #2

As a technical note, all the images are high-dynamic range (HDR) stacks of 8 exposures taken over a wide range of shutter speeds to record details in both the bright sky and darker shadows.

I processed them with Photoshop CC’s HDR Pro module and then Adobe Camera Raw in 32-bit mode. I aimed for a more natural look than you see in most HDR images, but even so the cloud contrast is exaggerated for dramatic effect. The wide-angle lens perspective adds to the effect.

This was a wonderful place to stand under the big skies of southern Alberta on a warm spring afternoon.

– Alan, May 25, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

What Was That Glow in the Sky?


Here’s a time-lapse of the strange glow of light that moved across the northern sky on the night of the Camelopardalid meteor shower.

What I thought was an odd curtain of slow-moving, colourless aurora — and I’ve seen those before — has many people who also saw it suspecting it was a glow from a fuel dump from an orbiting satellite. Perhaps.

This short time-lapse of 22 frames covers about 22 minutes starting at 11:59 pm MDT on May 23 (as logged by the camera’s GPS). Each frame is a 60-second exposure taken at 2 second intervals. I’m playing them back at one frame per second.

The camera was on a tracking platform to follow the stars — thus the ground slowly rotates. This was one of the cameras I had operating the night of May 23-24 to capture meteors from the Camelopardalid meteor shower. The shower was a dud, but …

The most interesting thing my cameras did catch was this odd glow which started large and diffuse and then became more defined as it got smaller and moved off (or so it appears) to the north, then fades away. My photos (and I have it on frames from another camera), and photos taken by other observers across North America, show a faint satellite moving along south to north parallel to the cloud’s long axis. Is this the culprit that caused the cloud? If so, it would have to be very high to be seen from a wide range of longitudes – astronomers in Manitoba and Minnesota also saw and shot it.

But any fuel dumps I’ve seen always have clouds that start small and concentrated then become large and diffuse. This did the opposite.

I’ll await further analysis and explanation.

P.S.: You can watch a better version of the movie here at my Flickr site.

— Alan, May 25, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

Hunting the Elusive Camelopardalids


Aurora & Light Pollution from Cypress Hills Park, Alberta

The Milky Way, an odd aurora, and the glow of urban light pollution lit the sky. But alas, no meteors!

On Friday afternoon, May 23 I headed 3 hours east of home toward the clearest skies in the province. The quest was for sightings of the Camelopardalid meteors, the new and much publicized meteor shower from Comet LINEAR, 209/P that had been predicted for tonight.

I had very good skies for the first couple of hours of darkness, from a viewpoint looking north over the prairies on the high rim of the Cypress Hills, Alberta. Clouds did move in about 12:30 a.m., about the time the shower was to be peaking. But up to that point I had sighted just a handful of meteors and many were likely random ones, as they didn’t seem to be streaking out of the radiant point. A few other people who had converged at the site saw other meteors to the south that might have been shower members.

Perhaps the peak came later under cover of clouds. But up to 12:30 a.m. I saw little sign of an active shower. Still, it was worth taking the chance to chase into clear skies in hopes of bagging a herd of Camelopardalids.

I shot hundreds of frames with two cameras and none picked up a Cam meteor – lots of satellites, like the streak at lower centre. And for a few minutes this strange white auroral curtain appeared, slowly drifting from east to west across the northern sky, like a searchlight, above the magenta horizon glow of low-level aurora. To the northwest glowed the lights of Medicine Hat, illuminating the clouds toxic yellow in a classic demonstration of light pollution.

– Alan, May 24, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

McDougall Church under Moonlight


McDougall Church in Moonlight #1 (May 14, 2014)

The historic pioneer church at Morley, Alberta stands under moonlight on the banks of the Bow.

Last night, after presenting a talk on time-lapse techniques to the Cochrane Camera Club, I headed west on Highway 1A to the historic McDougall Memorial United Church, long on my target list for time-lapse photography. It was Full Moon, which helped mask the lighting from nearby town lights and the urban sky glow of Cochrane and Calgary.

The wooden church stands on the benchlands north of the Bow River, near Morley, Alberta. Rev. George McDougall built it in 1875 to minister to the Cree. He lies buried on the Church grounds — that’s his grave in the foreground in the main image above, with the Full Moon shining above the headstone.

McDougall Church in Moonlight #2 (May 14, 2014)

In this image, Mars stands directly above the Church steeple. The Full Moon shines in the clouds to the south. Both still images are frames from time-lapse movies, shot with two cameras. One was on the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly, the other was a static tripod-mounted camera.

This little compilation shows the movies I shot last night, under moonlight on the banks of the Bow. It may take a moment to load. I hope you enjoy it!

— Alan, May 15, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Head of the Celestial Scorpion


 

Scorpius Head & Antares (135mm 5DII) v2The head of Scorpius is laced with colourful nebulas, both bright and dark. 

This is an image from two nights ago, from the dark skies of southeast Arizona. It takes in the head of Scorpius, from yellow Antares at lower left as the heart of the Scorpion, to the blue stars at right that mark his head.

The remarkable feature of this region of sky is its colour. No where else in the sky do we see (or I should say, does the camera see) such a spectrum of colourful nebulas. Dark brown lanes run down from the constellation Ophiuchus at left. They meet up with a yellow patch of nebulosity caused by dust reflecting the yellow-orange light of the giant star Antares.

Hot blue stars light up other dusty patches, while the magenta nebulas are created by gas emitting light, not just reflecting light from nearby stars.

A close-up of the region, shot in Australia last month, appears in my blog post from April 17, Stars Scenes in Scorpius. The image above, shot with a 135mm telephoto lens, takes in an area of sky that typical binoculars would frame.

But the eye sees only a hint of the detail, and none of the colour, hidden in the heart of Scorpius.

– Alan, May 6, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Nebulas, Clusters and Starfields, Oh My!


Centre of the Galaxy Mosaic

There’s no more spectacular region of the sky than the Milky Way toward the centre of the Galaxy.

What a perfect night it was last night. After moonset between 2 and 3:30 a.m. I shot a series of images around the centre of the Galaxy area and stitched them into a big mosaic of the Milky Way.

The scene takes in the Milky Way from the Eagle and Swan nebulas at top left, down to the Messier 6 and 7 open clusters in Scorpius at bottom. Standing out is the large pink Lagoon Nebula left of centre and the huge region of dark dusty nebulosity popularly called the Dark Horse at right of centre. It’s made of smaller dark nebulas such as the Pipe Nebula and tiny Snake Nebula.

At upper left is the bright Small Sagittarius Starcloud, aka Messier 24, flanked by the open clusters M23 and M25. There are a dozen or more Messier objects in this region of sky.

The actual centre of the Milky Way is obscured by dark dust but lies in the direction just below the centre of the frame, amid one of the bright star clouds that mark this amazing region of sky.

I shot the images for this mosaic from a site near Portal, Arizona, using a 135mm telephoto lens and filter-modified Canon 5D Mark II riding on an iOptron SkyTracker to follow the stars. The mosaic is made of 6 panels, each a stack of five 3-minute exposures. They were all stacked and stitched in Photoshop CC. The full version is 8000 by 9000 pixels and is packed with detail.

I think the result is one of the best astrophotos I’ve taken! It sure helps to have Arizona skies!

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