On Solstice Pond


Selfie at Solstice Pond

Solstice nights have been filled with twilights, planets, and noctilucent clouds.

Astronomers tend to curse the short nights and late sunsets of summer solstice. But the bright nights do offer unique sights.

Over the last few nights I’ve set up at what I call “Solstice Pond,” a prairie slough near home ideal for shooting the aurora to the north and, at this time of year, the glow of twilight and noctilucent clouds.

Below is the view on the night before solstice, looking north toward the glow of “perpetual twilight” that lights the northern horizon at solstice time from my latitude of 50° north.

Solstice Twilight Panorama over Prairie Pond
A 120° panorama of the summer solstice twilight (at 12:30 am local time) looking north over the prairie pond near home in southern Alberta, taken June 19/20, 2018. Some very faint noctilucent clouds are at left but fading, while some very faint rays of auroral curtains are also visible in the photo but were invisible to the eye. The bright star Capella is at centre and reflected in the calm waters. Perseus is at right of centre. The red lights at right are from the wind turbines at the Wintering Hills Wind Farm. This is a stitch of 6 segments, with the 35mm lens at f/2.5 for 20 seconds each with the Canon 6DMkII at ISO 400.

From farther north the twilight would be more prominent, while above the Arctic Circle at 66° N latitude, the twilight turns to full daylight as the Sun never sets.

The view looking south this night, with the Moon just off frame at right, includes the Milky Way at centre, with Saturn embedded, flanked by bright Jupiter at right and reddish Mars at left, both casting shimmering “glitter paths” on the still waters.

Planet Panorama at a Prairie Pond
A 160° panorama looking south near summer solstice time in June 2018, with the bright planets Mars (left) and Jupiter (right) and their glitter paths on the water flanking the Milky Way and Saturn in Sagittarius above the pinkish Lagoon Nebula. The waxing Moon is setting off frame at right brightening the sky and lighting the landscape. The sky is also blue from the solstice twilight. The stars of Scorpius shine between Jupiter and the Milky Way. Some faint bands of red and green airglow are visible at left, despite the bright sky. This is a stitch of 8 segments, all for 25 seconds with the 35mm lens at f/2.2 and Canon 6D MkII at ISO 800.

A few nights later (below), on June 24, the star of the solstice sky put in an appearance. Bright noctilucent clouds (NLCs) shone to the north, reflected in the pond.

These are water vapour clouds 80 kilometres high at the edge of the atmosphere – in the mesosphere – almost in space. They form over the Arctic in summer, and are high enough to remain sunlit even in the middle of the night as they catch the Sun shining over the pole.

Southern Western Canada – the Prairies where I live – is well-placed to see them, as we are far enough north to see them in our sky, but not so far north that our sky is too bright.

Noctilucent Clouds over Prairie Pond (June 24, 2018)
A fine display of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) or polar mesospheric clouds, reflected in a local prairie pond near home in southern Alberta. The display started with wisps much higher in the north but they faded as the Sun dropped lower, with the display at this extent by the time I reached my spot and took this panorama. Leo and Regulus are setting at far left in the west, as is Venus just above the horizon at left. Capella and Auriga are at centre, and circumpolar, while the stars of Perseus at right, rising. This is a panorama of 9 segments, at 15° spacings, with the 35mm lens at f/2.8 for 13 second exposures with the Canon 6D MkII at ISO 400. Stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

An even better display appeared two nights later, on June 26, brighter and with more structure.

The curving arc of the top of the display defines the most southerly edge where sunlight is able to reach. That edge drops lower through the first part of the night, as the Sun itself drops lower below the horizon. This causes less of the NLC display to be sunlit.

Panorama of Noctilucent Clouds (June 26, 2018)
A panorama of a fine display of noctilucent clouds across the northern horizon over an angle of about 60°. This was on June 26, 2018 at about 11:45 pm. Capella is just left of centre. The display faded as the solar illumination dropped and the clouds darkened from the top down. This was from the small pond near home in southern Alberta. This is a stitch of 7 segments, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 85mm Rokinon lens and Canon 6D MkII at ISO 400. Stitched with ACR.

You can see this effect of the changing illumination of the clouds in this time-lapse compilation from June 26 (below).

Also notice the waving motion of the clouds. It is as if the NLC material is flowing over standing waves in the atmosphere – and it is! The waves are called “gravity waves,” and are bumps in the high atmosphere created by disturbances far below in the normal layers of the atmosphere, the stratosphere and troposphere.

The video includes two clips shot simultaneously: from a camera with a 24mm wide-angle lens, and from a camera with an 85mm moderate telephoto. Expand to view full screen in HD.

The motion, here over an hour or more, is hypnotic. The NLCs move right to left (east to west), while the dark normal weather clouds on the horizon are blowing left to right (west to east). The stars are also turning left to right. The water ripples in the wind, while ducks swim by.

It was a magical night at Solstice Pond.

– Alan, June 27, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

The Night-Shadowed Prairie


The Night Shadowed Prairie

“No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie.” – William Butler, 1873

In the 1870s, just before the coming of the railway and European settlement, English adventurer William Butler trekked the Canadian prairies, knowing what he called “The Great Lone Land” was soon to disappear as a remote and unsettled territory.

The quote from his book is on a plaque at the site where I took the lead image, Sunset Point at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

The night was near perfect, with the Milky Way standing out down to the southern horizon and the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana. Below, the Milk River winds through the sandstone rock formations sacred to the Blackfoot First Nations.

The next night (last night, July 26, as I write this) I was at another unique site in southern Alberta, Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. The sky presented one of Butler’s unmatched prairie sunsets.

Big Sky Sunset at Red Rock Coulee

This is “big sky” country, and this week is putting on a great show with a succession of clear and mild nights under a heat wave.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Red Rock Coulee

The waxing crescent Moon adds to the western sky and the sunsets. But it sets early enough to leave the sky dark for the Milky Way to shine to the south.

The Milky Way at Red Rock Coulee

This was the Milky Way on Wednesday night, July 27, over Red Rock Coulee. Sagittarius and the centre of the Galaxy lie above the horizon. At right, Saturn shines amid the dark lanes of the Dark Horse in the Milky Way.

I’m just halfway through my week-long photo tour of several favourite sites in this Great Lone Land. Next, is Cypress Hills and the Reesor Ranch.

— Alan, July 27, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Moons of Lost Sleep


Waning Moon in the Morning Series (with Labels)

These are the Moons only insomniacs and night shift workers get to see. These are the waning Moons of morning.

For eight mornings I’ve been up at 4 a.m. each day to catch the early Moon and collect a series of images of its waning phases.

The result is above, a series that runs from right to left in time, from the 19-day-old waning gibbous Moon, to the 26-day-old thin crescent Moon.

I ordered them that way in the composite to reflect the direction the Moon moves across the sky. As it orbits Earth and wanes, the Moon moves from west to east, or right to left, in the sky from morning to morning, at least in the northern hemisphere.

A run of clear nights and mornings made the series possible. From Alberta, as dry as it is, too many cloudy nights make a consistent Moon phase series a challenge at best.

As it was I had to contend with smoke from forest fires in B.C. which reddened the Moon on the last few mornings, a tint I had to correct for the composite above. But here below, is what the Moon really looked like one morning.

Smoky Waning Crescent Moon
The smoky orange Moon of July 17.

The last two Moons, at 25 and 26 days old (i.e. the number of days since the previous New Moon phase) exhibited the phenomenon known as Earthshine. You can see the night side of the Moon glowing gently with sunlight reflected first off the Earth.

Waning Moon and Earthshine (July 20, 2017)
Earthshine on the 25-day old Moon on July 20 at dawn.

Below, this was the Moon this morning, July 21, with it very low in the east amid the twilight sky.

Waning 26-Day Moon with Earthshine
Earthshine on the thin 26-day old Moon on July 21 at dawn.

This final morning was exceptional. The smoke had cleared off, and when I got up at 4 a.m. (reluctantly!) for the last shoot I was greeted with the best display of noctilucent clouds I had seen in many years. They covered the northeast and eastern skies in a rare “grand display.”

Noctilucent Clouds at Dawn with the Moon and Venus
Noctilucent clouds with the Moon and Venus in the dawn sky, from southern Alberta, July 21, 2017.

The thin crescent Moon is just rising at right, with Venus bright as a “morning star” at far right. This was a sky certainly worth losing sleep over.

— Alan, July 21, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Austral Moon of Evening


Waxing Moon in Evening Twilight Colours

From the southern hemisphere the Moon appears “upside-down” and higher each night in the northern sky as it waxes from crescent to Full.

These are scenes from the last week as the Moon rose higher into the evening sky as seen from Australia.

A northerner familiar with the sky would look at these and think these are images of the waning Moon at dawn in the eastern sky.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Cape Conran
The “upside-down” waxing crescent Moon in the evening sky from Victoria, Australia, at Cape Conran, West Cape area, on the Gippsland Coast, at latitude 37° South. Earthshine lights the dark side of the Moon. This was March 31, 2017. The Moon lights a glitter path on the water. This is a single 1.3-second exposure at f/2 with the 85mm Rokinon lens, and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 400.

But no, these are of the waxing Moon (the phases from New to Full) with the Moon in the evening sky.

From the southern hemisphere the ecliptic – the path of the planets – and the path of the Moon arcs across the northern sky. So as the Moon waxes from New to Full phase it appears to the right of the Sun, which still sets in the west. The world still spins the same way down under!

So the Moon appears upside down and with the crescent phase the “wrong” way for us northerners.

Panorama of the Waxing Moon at Sunset at Welshpool Harbour
A 240° panorama from 16 segments.

This panorama taken April 4 sweeps from northwest to southeast, but looks north at centre, to capture the scene at sunset of the waxing 8-day gibbous Moon in the northern sky as seen from the southern hemisphere.

The angle between the Sun and Moon is just over 90°, shown here by the angle between the right-angle arms of the wharf, pointed to the west at left, to the north at centre, and to the east at right.

The Sun has set just north of west, while the Moon sits 13° east of due north. The Earth’s shadow rises as the blue arc at far right to the east opposite the Sun.

Philip Island Sunset and Waxing Moon Panorama
A 240° panorama from 15 segments.

The next night, April 5, I shot this panorama from Philip Island south of Melbourne. Again, it shows the waxing gibbous Moon in the north far to the right of the setting Sun in the west (at left).

Getting used to the motion of the Sun and Moon across the northern sky, and the Moon appearing on the other side of the Sun than we are used to, is one of the challenges of getting to know the southern sky.

Things just don’t appear where nor move as you expect them to. But that’s one of the great delights of southern star gazing.

— Alan, April 8, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Arch of the Sky Above and Land Below


Harvest Moon Rising over the Red Deer River

On Friday night the Harvest Moon rose amid the arching shadow of the Earth.

This was the view on Friday, September 16 at moonrise on the Red Deer River. The view is from the Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Badlands and sweeping curve of the river.

Above is the wide arch of the dark shadow of the Earth rising into the deepening twilight. Almost dead centre in the shadow is the Full Moon, the annual Harvest Moon.

Hours earlier the Moon passed through the shadow of our planet out at the Moon’s distance from Earth, creating a minor penumbral eclipse. No part of that eclipse, such as it was anyway, was visible from here.

But the alignment did place the Moon in the middle of our planet’s shadow projected into our atmosphere, as it does at every sunset and sunrise.

But it takes a very clear sky for the shadow to stand out as well as this in the darkening sky. I like how the curve of the shadow mirrors the curve of the river.

This is a marvellous spot for photography. I shared the site with one other photographer, at far right, who also came to capture the rising of the Harvest Moon.

The image is a 7-segment panorama with a 20mm lens, stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

— Alan, September 17, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

TWAN-black

 

The Perseids Perform


Radiant of the Perseid Meteor Shower (2016)

It was a great night for shooting meteors as the annual Perseids put on a show.

For the Perseid meteor shower I went to one of the darkest sites in Canada, Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan, a dark sky preserve and home to several rare species requiring dark nights to flourish – similar to astronomers!

This year a boost in activity was predicted and the predictions seemed to hold true. The lead image records 33 meteors in a series of stacked 30-second exposures taken over an hour.

It shows only one area of sky, looking east toward the radiant point in the constellation Perseus – thus the name of the shower.

Extrapolating the count to the whole sky, I think it’s safe to say there would have been 100 or more meteors an hour zipping about, not bad for my latitude of 49° North.

Lone Perseid in the Moonlight
A lone Perseid meteor streaking down below the radiant point in Perseus, with the sky and landscape lit by the waxing gibbous Moon, August 11, 2016. Perseus is rising in the northeast, Andromeda is at right, with the Andromeda Galaxy right of centre. Cassiopeia is at top. Taken from the 70 Mile Butte trailhead in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.

The early part of the evening was lit by moonlight, which lent itself to some nice nightscapes scenes but fewer meteors.

Perseid Meteor Shower Looking North (2016)
The 2016 Perseid meteor shower, in a view looking north to the Big Dipper and with the radiant point in Perseus at upper right, the point where the meteors appear to be streaking from. This is a stack of 10 frames, shot over one hour from 1:38 a.m. to 2:37 a.m. CST. The camera was on the Star Adventurer tracker so all the sky frames aligned. The ground is from a stack of four frames, mean combined to smooth noise, and taken with the tracker motor off to minimize ground blurring, and taken at the start of the sequence. All exposures 40 seconds at f/3.2 with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 6400.

But once the Moon set and the sky darkened the show really began. Competing with the meteors was some dim aurora, but also the brightest display of airglow I have even seen.

It was bright enough to be visible to the eye as grey bands, unusual. Airglow is normally sub-visual.

But the camera revealed the airglow bands as green, red, and yellow, from fluorescing oxygen and sodium atoms. The bands slowly rippled across the sky from south to north.

Airglow is something you can see only from dark sites. It is one of the wonders of the night sky, that can make a dark sky not dark!

TECHNICAL:

Meteor Composite Screen ShotThe lead image is stack of 31 frames containing meteors (two frames had 2 meteors), shot from 1:13 am to 2:08 a.m. CST, so over 55 minutes. The camera was not tracking the sky but was on a fixed tripod. I choose one frame with the best visibility of the airglow as the base layer. For every other meteor layer, I used Free Transform to rotate each frame around a point far off frame at upper left, close to where the celestial pole would be and then nudged each frame to bring the stars into close alignment with the base layer, especially near the meteor being layered in.

This placed each meteor in its correct position in the sky in relation to the stars, essential for showing the effect of the radiant point accurately.

Each layer above the base sky layer is masked to show just the meteor and is blended with Lighten mode. If I had not manually aligned the sky for each frame, the meteors would have ended up positioned where they appeared in relation to the ground but the radiant point would have been smeared — the meteors would have been in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, it’s what I see in a lot of composited meteor shower shots.

It would have been much easier if I had had this camera on a tracker so all frames would have been aligned coming out of the camera. But the other camera was on the tracker! It took the other composite image, the one looking north.

The ground is a mean combined stack of 4 frames to smooth noise in the ground. Each frame is 30 seconds at f/2 with the wonderful Sigma 20mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 5000. The waxing Moon had set by the time this sequence started, leaving the sky dark and the airglow much more visible.

— Alan, August 13, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

Rainbows, Lightning, and Sunsets, Oh My!


Lightning and Rainbow at Sunset

The sky presented a pyrotechnic display of light and colour in the sunset sky.

What a show tonight, July 18, as a thunderstorm lit the sky with bolts of lightning. As the storm retreated, the Sun broke through, ideal lighting for a rainbow. In this case I was able to capture the rainbow pierced by bolts of lightning. See below for tech details.

A little later, the sunlight got stronger and the rainbow grew to span the sky, in a beautiful display of a double rainbow lit by the red light of the setting Sun.

Double Rainbow at Sunset
A double rainbow at sunset on July 18, 2016 after a pyrotechnic thunderstorm. The low Sun is providing the red lighting, with some shafts of sunlight and shadow converging to the anti-solar point. This is a 2-frame panorama with the 16-35mm lens at 16mm, stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

As the beams of sunlight lit the clouds, it looked like the rainbow was on fire.

Fiery Rainbow at Sunset
A double rainbow at sunset with the last rays of the setting Sun lighting the clouds and making the rainbow look like its on fire. A single image with the 16-35mm lens.

It has been a stormy start to summer in Alberta, but at times the sky has put on a stunning show. That was certainly the case tonight.

Technical on the Lightning and Rainbow shot at top:

This is a stack of 35 consecutive video frames taken with HD (1920 x 1080) resolution at 30 frames per second with the Canon 6D, and extracted as an image sequence with Photoshop, then processed in Adobe Camera Raw, then stacked with Russell Brown’s Stack-A-Matic into a smart object with maximum stack mode, to accumulate the frames taken over about 1 second into one still frame.

So I could have got this with a single 1-second exposure with the lens stopped way down and a ND filter, but my timing would have had to have been very, very lucky!

— Alan, July 18, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

 

Tis the Season for Night Shining Clouds


Noctilucent Clouds and Big Dipper

A bright display of noctilucent clouds last night prompts me to remind northerners to look north at this prime season for night shining clouds.

Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) can be seen only in summer and are best in the few weeks before and after (mostly after) summer solstice. I shot all these images in the middle of the night. Indeed, the two images above and just below are from 3 am on the morning of June 27.

NLCs are high altitude clouds at the edge of space some 80 kilometres above the Earth, far above any normal weather clouds. Their height allows sunlight streaming over the pole to illuminate them all night long.

Noctilucent Clouds over Pond
Noctilucent clouds at 3 am on June 27 over a prairie pond in southern Alberta. The NLCs were visible as an arc across the north for at least 2 hours and were still there as dawn twilight brightened at 3:30 am. This is looking due north with the bowl of the Big Dipper at upper left. Capella is at lower right. Shot with the 24mm lens.

Their cause is a mystery. They may form by water vapour condensing on meteoric dust particles.

They look luminescent, as if glowing on their own. But these are not auroras. They shine only by reflected sunlight.

And they have complex structures, with intricate waves and ripples.

Noctilucent Clouds (June 17, 2016)
A display of noctilucent clouds, the first good display of the season from my area of southern Alberta, on June 17/18. 2016. This is with a 105mm telephoto and the Nikon D750, and is the first frame of a 1000-frame time-lapse sequence. However, as the Sun dropped farther below the horizon the clouds did lose illumination and faded, from the top down.

And they move very slowly, as this time-lapse from June 17 shows.

Readers living at a latitude between 45° and 55° are best situated to see “NLCs.” From farther south the clouds will be below the horizon. From farther north the sky may be too bright with twilight and the angle of illumination wrong for optimum viewing.

For more information, check the Wikipedia article

Unlike auroras, there is no predicting when they might appear. Some nights when it is clear where you are, no NLCs appear. Perhaps that’s because of cloud much farther north blocking the path of light from the Sun on the other side of the planet to the clouds on our side of the Earth.

But by the end of July NLC season is coming to an end as the Sun drops farther below the northern horizon at night, and the nights get darker.

So over the next four weeks, look low in the north for night shining clouds.

— Alan, June 27, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

 

Glows and Streaks in the Spring Sky


The Spring Sky over the Pioneer Farmstead

How many sources of skyglow can you pick out here?

There are at least five:

• the Milky Way (at left),

• green airglow (below the Milky Way),

• all too prevalent light pollution (especially reflected off the clouds coming in from the west at right),

• lingering blue twilight across the north (at left and right), common in May and June from my northern latitude,

• and even a touch of aurora right at the northern horizon at far left.

In this scene from May 28, the Milky Way arches over an abandoned pioneer farmstead from the 1930s and 40s near my home in southern Alberta.

Mars (very bright and in some clouds) and Saturn shine at lower centre, while Jupiter is the bright object in clouds at right just above the old house.

Arcturus is the brightest star here at upper right of centre, made more obvious here by shining through the clouds. The Big Dipper, distorted by the map projection used in the this panorama, is at upper right.

Technical: This is a 360° horizon to zenith panorama taken with the iPano motorized panning unit, using the 24mm lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400, for a stitch of 28 panels, in 4 tiers of 7 segments each. Stitched with PTGui. South is at centre, north to either end. The original is 25,700 x 7,700 pixels.

Just after I shot the panorama I captured the International Space Station passing directly overhead in one of several passes this night.

ISS Pass #2 (May 28/29, 2016)
The second Space Station pass of May 28/29, 2016, at 1:40 a.m., with cloud moving in adding the glows to all the stars. Taken with the 8mm fish-eye lens from home. The Big Dipper is high in the west at right. Mars is bright at bottom, to the south. Several other satellites are in the sky as well. This is a stack of 3 exposures, each 2.5-minutes with the camera on the Star Adventurer tracker.

At this time of year the ISS is lit all night by the Sun that never sets for the astronauts. We see the ISS cross the sky not once but several times in a night at 90-minute intervals.

While the sky near solstice is never dark at my latitude, it does have its compensations and attractions.

— Alan, May 29, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Circles and Lines in the Dawn Sky


A classic 22° ice crystal halo around the waning crescent Moon, here overexposed, with the Moon between Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky on December 5, 2015. Seeing a halo around a crescent Moon is somewhat rare as they usually require the brighter light of the Full Moon. Venus is the brightest object at bottom closest to the horizon. The three planets, along with the stars Spica (above Venus) and Regulus (at top of frame) define the line of the ecliptic here in the dawn late autumn / early winter sky. I captured this scene from southeast Arizona near the Arizona Sky Village at Portal. This is a stack of 4 exposures from long to short (8s to 1/2s) to encompass the great range in brightness and not overexpose the crescent Moon too much. Images were layered in Photoshop and masked with luminosity masks. Automatic HDR techniques did not work well as the shortest image was too dark for ACR to find content to register in Merge ot HDR, and in Photoshop the HDR Pro module left visible edge artifacts. The camera was on the iOptron Sky Tracker to follow the sky and register the sky for all the exposures, thus the slightly blurred ground. Taken with the Canon 6D and 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens.

Cloud hid Comet Catalina but added a halo around the waning Moon, intersected by the line of the ecliptic.

I’m in Arizona, just inside the state line with New Mexico, on a quest to shoot Comet Catalina at dawn. Clouds prevented any view of the faint comet this morning but provided a fine consolation prize.

The waning crescent Moon was surrounded by an ice crystal halo, a rare sight around a thin Moon. The Moon was between Mars and Jupiter, heading toward a conjunction with Venus, below, on December 7.

The line of Venus, Mars, the Moon, and Jupiter, plus the stars Spica and Regulus defined the line of the ecliptic beautifully in the pre-dawn sky.

A classic 22° ice crystal halo around the waning crescent Moon, here overexposed, with the Moon between Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky on December 5, 2015. Seeing a halo around a crescent Moon is somewhat rare as they usually require the brighter light of the Full Moon. Venus is the brightest object at bottom closest to the horizon. The three planets, along with the stars Spica (above Venus) and Regulus (at top of frame) define the line of the ecliptic here in the dawn late autumn / early winter sky. I captured this scene from southeast Arizona near the Arizona Sky Village at Portal. This is a stack of 4 exposures from long to short (8s to 1/2s) to encompass the great range in brightness and not overexpose the crescent Moon too much. Images were layered in Photoshop and masked with luminosity masks. Automatic HDR techniques did not work well as the shortest image was too dark for ACR to find content to register in Merge ot HDR, and in Photoshop the HDR Pro module left visible edge artifacts. The camera was on the iOptron Sky Tracker to follow the sky and register the sky for all the exposures, thus the slightly blurred ground. Taken with the Canon 6D and 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens.
This is a stack of 4 exposures from long to short (8s to 1/2s) to encompass the great range in brightness and not overexpose the crescent Moon too much. Images were layered in Photoshop and masked with luminosity masks. Automatic HDR techniques did not work well as the shortest image was too dark for ACR to find content to register in Merge ot HDR, and in Photoshop the HDR Pro module left visible edge artifacts.
The camera was on the iOptron Sky Tracker to follow the sky and register the sky for all the exposures, thus the slightly blurred ground. Taken with the Canon 6D and 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens.

It was a show of circles and lines, real and imagined, in the morning sky.

With luck, clouds will clear to reveal Comet Catalina, which is likely fainter and less spectacular than hoped. But such is the way of comets. Regardless of what the comet does, it is a good time to be in the desert southwest, typing this blog on a sunny front porch under blue desert skies.

— Alan, December 5, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Morning Star, the Milky Way, and the Zodiacal Light


Venus shines brightly, and nearly at its brightest at magnitude -4.7, in the dawn sky on a very frosty morning at 5 am, on September 17, 2015, from home in southern Alberta. Venus appears amid the faint glow of the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “False Dawn,” stretching vertically from the dawn horizon in the east, up and to the right, and reaching the Milky Way that runs down the frame from top centre to bottom right. Orion and the winter stars shine in the Milky Way, with Sirius above the trees at lower right. The Beehive Cluster, M44, appears as the small group of stars above Venus. The Pleiades, M45, is at top right. Mars is the brightest object left of Venus, with the bright star Regulus just below it and rising in the east. The stars of the Big Dipper are at far left at the edge of the frame. The sky is beginning to brighten with the real glow of morning.  This is a stack of 4 x 2-minute exposures, tracked and mean combine stacked, for the sky and 2 x 2-minute exposures, untracked and stacked, for the ground to minimize blurring in the starlit ground. The Canon 6D was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker, shooting at ISO 1250 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/3.5. The stacking with a mean combine stack mode smooths noise in both sky and ground.

Venus, now at its brightest as a morning star, shines amid the subtle glow of the Zodiacal Light. 

This was the scene this morning, September 17, on a very frosty dawn at 5 a.m. from my backyard in southern Alberta.

Here, Venus shines nearly as bright as it can be, at magnitude -4.7, in the dawn sky as a brilliant “morning star.”

Venus appears amid the faint glow of the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “False Dawn,” stretching diagonally from the dawn horizon in the east, up and to the right, and reaching the Milky Way that runs vertically down the frame from top centre to bottom right.

Orion and the winter stars shine in the Milky Way, with Sirius above the trees at lower right.

The Beehive Cluster, M44, appears as the small group of stars above Venus. The Pleiades, M45, is at top right.

Mars is the brightest object left of Venus, with the bright star Regulus just below it and rising in the east. The stars of the Big Dipper are at far left at the edge of the frame.

The sky is beginning to brighten with the real glow of morning. It was a marvellous dawn sky delight.

Technical notes:

This is a stack of 4 x 2-minute exposures, tracked and mean-combine stacked, for the sky and 2 x 2-minute exposures, untracked and stacked, for the ground to minimize blurring in the starlit ground. The Canon 6D was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker, shooting at ISO 1250 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/3.5. The stacking with a mean combine stack mode smooths noise in both sky and ground.

– Alan, September 17, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

The Dancing Northern Lights


A still frame from a 865-frame time-lapse movie taken the morning of Sept. 9, 2015 from the back deck, using the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens for 2-second exposures for a fast cadence. Focus is soft.

The lights came out and danced in my sky in the early morning hours.

The early warning signs weren’t calling for anything too impressive for a display last night, September 8/9, but the sky surprised us with a fantastic display of Northern lights.

I shot with one camera – it was very late, or very early! – but shot enough frames to create this short 1.5-minute music video.

I photographed the sequence with a single fixed-camera aimed east toward a bright auroral curtain, showing fast pulsing forms common to the later stages of a substorm. But then a new bright curtain sweeps in from the north and the display brightens even more in a new substorm. The display then fades.

The exposures were taken over an hour from 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. MDT. Each was a 2-second exposure with an interval of 2 seconds, shot with the Nikon D750 at ISO 3200 and Sigma 24mm lens at f/2, for a total of just over 850 frames.

Music is my Adi Goldstein at AGSoundtrax.com.

— Alan, September 9, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Sunset over Horsethief Canyon


Sunset on August 1, 2015 at the Horsethief Canyon Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River, north of Drumheller, Alberta, on the Dinosaur Trail scenic drive. The name comes from the pioneer days when horses would get lost in the Badlands here and then re-emerge found, but with a new brand on them. The region is home to rich deposits of late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils. Just south of here is the world class Royal Tyrrell Museum, a centre of research into dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  This is a single-exposure frame (not HDR) from a 300-frame time-lapse sequence, with the Canon 6D and 16-35mm lens.

The Sun sets over the Red Deer River Badlands at Horsethief Canyon

This was sunset last night, Saturday, August 1, at the Horsethief Canyon Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River, north of Drumheller, Alberta.

The viewpoint is one stop on the Dinosaur Trail scenic drive that winds up and down the river valley, with a crossing just north of here by one of the few remaining river ferries in Alberta, the historic Bleriot Ferry.

The Canyon’s name comes from the pioneer days when horses would get lost in the Badlands here, then re-emerge found, but with a new brand on them.

The region is home to rich deposits of late-Cretaceous dinosaur fossils. Just south of here is the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum, a centre of research into dinosaurs and prehistoric life.

This is a single-exposure frame (not HDR) from a 300-frame time-lapse sequence, with the Canon 6D and 16-35mm lens.

– Alan. August 2, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Worlds Amid the Sunset Clouds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus low in the sunset colours of a July summer evening over the waters of Little Fish Lake, in southern Alberta. Jupiter is at upper right but much fainter.  This is a 3-segment panorama taken with the Canon 60Da and 18-200mm Sigma zoom.

The thin waxing Moon shines near Venus above the colourful clouds of sunset.

Tonight, July 18, was the evening of a close conjunction of the crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky. From my latitude at 50° North, the conjunction was going to be low, and at risk of clouds.

In this case, the clouds added to the scene as they lit up with sunset colours.

You can see the Moon and Venus at centre, while fainter Jupiter is at upper right, and perhaps not visible on screen at this scale.

The location is one I used last month for the Venus-Jupiter meeting, Little Fish Lake and Provincial Park, north of Drumheller. It’s a quiet spot. This Saturday night there were just three families there camping.

I shot this telephoto panorama with my red-sensitive Canon 60Da, which is designed to record red nebulas well, but does a nice job on punching up sunsets, too!

Alas, the clouds that painted the sky so nicely here, moved in as the worlds set lower. I wasn’t able to shoot them closer to the horizon amid the deep colours of a late twilight. But I’ll settle for this image.

– Alan, July 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Twilight Triangle of Worlds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and fainter Jupiter above, with the three worlds forming a triangle in the twilight, on the evening of June 19, 2015, from a site north of Bassano, Alberta. This is an HDR stack of 5 exposures to retain detail in the dark foreground and bright twilight sky. This is with the 50mm lens and Canon 6D.

The three brightest objects in the night sky gathered into a tidy triangle in the twilight. 

On Friday night, June 19, I chased around my area of southern Alberta, seeking clear skies to capture the grouping of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus and Jupiter.

My first choice was the Crawling Valley reservoir and lake, to capture the scene over the water. I got there in time to get into position on the east side of the lake, and grab some shots.

The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and dimmer Jupiter above, all over Crawling Lake Reservoir, in southern Alberta, on June 19, 2015. This is a 5-exposure HDR stack to preserve deatails in the dark foreground and bright sky. Shortly after I took this shot clouds from an approaching storm front obscured the planets and the sky.

This was the result, but note the clouds! They were moving in quickly and soon formed a dramatic storm front. By the time I got back to the car and changed lenses, I was just able to grab the panorama below before the clouds engulfed the sky, and the winds were telling me to leave!

A wicker looking storm front moving in quickly over the Crawling Lake Reservoir in southern Alberta. I had just a few minutes to get set up for this after shooting the gathering of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the evening twilight from a nearby spot. Then clouds soon covered the planets. By the time I got back to the car to change lenses the storm front was almost on top of me. I grabbed segments for this panorama using a 24mm lens and Canon 6D. While the outflow winds really picked up, the storm didn’t amount to much and cleared off shortly after as it moved to the east from the northwest.

I drove west toward home, taking a new highway and route back, and finding myself back into clear skies, as the storm headed east. I stopped by the only interesting foreground element I could find to make a composition, the fence, and grabbed the lead photo.

Both it, and the second image, are “HDR” stacks of five exposures, to preserve detail in the dark foreground and bright sky.

It was a productive evening under the big sky of the prairies.

– Alan, June 20, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Urban and Rural Moons


The waxing crescent Moon near Venus in the spring evening sky over the skyline of Calgary, Alberta, May 21, 2015. I shot this from Tom Campbell Hill near the Telus Spark science centre. This is a single exposure with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 60Da, shot as part of a 360-frame time-lapse sequence.

The waxing Moon and Venus shine over contrasting landscapes, both urban and rural.

I shot the main image at top last night, May 21, from a site overlooking the urban skyline of Calgary, Alberta. The waxing Moon shines near Venus in the twilight sky.

By contrast I shot the image below the night before, from a location that couldn’t be more different – remote, rural Saskatchewan, on a heritage farmstead first settled in the 1920s by the Butala family. It is now the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.

The waxing crescent Moon and Venus (above) over the old farm house at the Visitor Centre at the Old Man on His Back Natural and Historical Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan, May 20, 2015, on a very clear night. The old house was the original house lived in by the Butala family who settled the area in the 1920s. This is a single exposure taken as part of an 850-frame time-lapse sequence with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 60Da camera.

Here, the crescent Moon shines a little lower, below Venus, amid the subtle colours of twilight in a crystal clear prairie sky.

However, as the top image demonstrates, you don’t need to travel to remote rural locations to see and photograph beautiful sky sights. Twilight conjunctions of the Moon and bright planets lend themselves to urban nightscapes.

– Alan, May 22, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moonrise Over Calgary


Full Moonrise over Calgary

The Full Moon rises over the skyline of Calgary on a clear spring night.

This was the moonrise on Sunday, May 3, as the Full Moon rose south of the main skyline of Calgary. The timing of last night’s Full Moon promised a great shot.

The Moon rose about 15 minutes before sunset, a timing that I was hoping would lead to a shot of the skyline lighting up red with the last rays of the setting Sun in the west as the Moon rose in the east.

Alas, horizon haze obscured the setting Sun and rising Moon. The Full Moon didn’t appear until a good 30 minutes after moonrise as it rose above the haze into the pink twilight sky. Not quite what I was after, but it made a nice scene after all.

I shot this from the grounds of the CFCN TV building high on Broadcast Hill west of the city. There wasn’t an accessible site farther north with a clear sightline east that would have allowed me to place the Moon right over the city.

From this site at CFCN the Full Moon won’t rise over the downtown core until the Full Moon of September 27, the night of the total eclipse of the Moon. Photo op!

This is one frame of 430 I shot for a time-lapse sequence. To plan this and other rise and set images I use the handy app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

TPE Screenshot
A screen shot from TPE showing the photo’s shooting geometry

This screen shot from TPE illustrates last night’s moonrise geometry, with the moonrise line pointing just south of the downtown core as seen from the CFCN site.

I highly recommend TPE for planning any nightscape photography of the rising and setting Sun and Moon.

– Alan, May 4, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moonlighting at Monument Valley


Moonrise Behind the Mittens at Monument Valley (#1)

The Full Moon rises behind the famous Mitten buttes at Monument Valley.

I spent a fabulous weekend capturing sunsets and nightscapes at the iconic Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border, the photogenic outdoor set of dozens movies over the decades.

On the eve of the total lunar eclipse I shot the nearly Full Moon rising behind the West (left) and East (centre) Mittens and Merrick Butte (at right). On the evening of Friday, April 3 the Moon rose and sat amid the sunlit clouds with the Sun still up.

The alignment that would place the Moon directly opposite the Sun to create the eclipse was still 11 hours away.

Note how the butte’s shadows point almost, but not quite directly, at the nearly Full Moon. They point at the place in the sky the Moon would be before dawn at the end of that night.

Indeed, on eclipse morning on Saturday, April 4 the Moon set exactly as the Sun rose (see my photos in my previous blog).

But on eclipse eve the Moon rose 30 minutes before the Sun set, providing a chance to catch the Moon behind the still sunlit red buttes.

Moonrise Behind the Mittens at Monument Valley (#2)

I shot this image about 20 minutes after sunset on April 3, so the foreground is now in shadow but the Moon appears in a more richly tinted twilight sky.

Orion and Venus Setting at Monument Valley

Later on April 3 I captured this scene, with the Tear Drop and Rock Door Mesas now lit by a bright Full Moon, and with the stars of the winter sky setting into the west. Canis Major and Orion are at left, while Taurus, including the Pleiades star cluster and brilliant Venus, are at right.

The Orion & Venus image is a 2-panel panorama.

Moonbeams at Monument Valley

On the evening of April 4, clouds thwarted plans for a long star trail sequence above a moonlit foreground.

Instead, I shot toward the Moon and clouds, to capture subtle moonbeams radiating out from the Moon, now some 14 hours after the eclipse, rising behind Merrick Butte. I shot this from the dusty Loop Road that winds through the valley floor.

Big Dipper over West Mitten, Monument Valley

Instead of lots of images for a star trail composite, I was content to shoot this one image, catching the Big Dipper in a brief hole in the drifting clouds, hanging in the sky over the West Mitten butte. The foreground is lit by the partly obscured Full Moon. The long exposure streaks the moving clouds.

Night or day, it’s hard not to take a great photo here, clouds or not!

Sunset Panorama at Monument Valley

On my final evening at Monument Valley, high winds common to the area, blowing dust, and the closed Loop Road, scuttled plans again for long star trail sequences from the valley floor.

So on Easter Sunday, April 5, I settled for a panorama from the classic viewpoint showing the setting Sun lighting the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley.

It is an amazing place, but one that still requires patience to wait out the clouds and dust storms.

– Alan, April 6, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky


Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky

A truly dark sky isn’t dark. It is filled with glows both subtle and spectacular.

Last night, March 10, I drove up into the heart of the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico, to a viewpoint at 7,900 feet in altitude. I was in search of the darkest skies in the area. I found them! There was not a light in sight.

The featured image is a 180° panorama showing:

– the Zodiacal Light (at right in the west)
– the Milky Way (up from the centre, in the south, to the upper right)
– the Zodiacal Band (faintly visible running from right to left across the frame at top)
– the Gegenschein (a brightening of the Zodiacal Band at left of frame, in the east in Leo)

The Zodiacal Light, Zodiacal Band, and the Gegenschein are all part of the same phenomenon, glows along the ecliptic path – the plane of the solar system – caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary and meteoric dust in the inner solar system.

The Gegenschein, or “counterglow,” can be seen with the naked eye as a large and diffuse brightening of the sky at the spot exactly opposite the Sun. It is caused by sunlight reflecting directly back from comet dust, the scattering effect greatest at the point opposite the Sun.

The Zodiacal Light requires reasonably dark skies to see, but the fainter Zodiacal Band and Gegenschein require very dark skies.

Now is prime season for all of them, with the Moon out of the way, and the Zodiacal Light angled up high in the western as twilight ends. In March, the Gegenschein is now located in a relatively blank area of sky in southern Leo.

The Milky Way is much more obvious. Along the northern winter Milky Way here you can see dark lanes of interstellar dust, particularly in Taurus above and to the right of Orion. Red nebulas of glowing gas also lie along the Milky Way, such as Barnard’s Loop around Orion.

– Orion is at centre, in the south, with Canis Major and the bright star Sirius below and to the left of Orion. Canopus is just setting on the southern horizon at centre. It barely clears the horizon from 32° North latitude.

– To the right of Orion is Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster at the top of the Zodiacal Light pyramid.

– Venus is the bright object in the Zodiacal Light at right, in the west, while fainter Mars is below Venus.

– At far right, in the northwest, is the Andromeda Galaxy, M31.

– Jupiter is the bright object at upper left, in the east, in the Zodiacal Band, and near the Beehive star cluster.

– The Zodiacal Light, Band and Gegenschein all lie along the ecliptic, as do Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Glows on the horizon are from distant SIlver City, Las Cruces and El Paso. The brighter sky at right is from the last vestiges of evening twilight. Some green and red airglow bands also permeate the sky.

Standing Under the Milky Way
I shot this March 10, 2015 from the summit of Highway 15, The Trail of the Mountain Spirits, that twists and winds through the Gila Wilderness.

It was a stunning night, clear, calm, and silent. Just me under the ghostly glows of a truly dark sky.

NOTE: I first published this March 11 but had to republish this blog March 15 after WordPress deleted the original post in a software bug. Thanks WordPress! 

– Alan, March 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / http://www.amazingsky.newt

 

Rising of the Snow Moon & Jupiter


Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #1

Tonight the Full Moon rose paired with Jupiter, in the colourful twilight over Silver City, New Mexico.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scouted out the location last night for the shoot tonight, February 3.

I drove west of Silver City to a viewpoint on Boston Hill overlooking the town east to the rising Moon.

The Full Moon of February has come to be called the “Snow Moon,” appropriate for many parts of the continent now enduring record snowfalls. But here, we enjoyed summer-like temperatures and a decided lack of snow.

The Moon rose into a clear sky accompanied by Jupiter, now 4 days before its annual opposition date. At opposition we pass between the Sun and an outer planet, in this case Jupiter. This puts Jupiter opposite the Sun, so it rises as the Sun sets.

The Full Moon also always lies opposite the Sun, so tonight the Full Moon joined Jupiter in the sky.

Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #2

To capture the scene I shot several panoramas, each consisting of several segments, to take in the broad sweep of the horizon. The scene above records the pink “Belt of Venus,” created by sunlight lighting the upper atmosphere to the east in the half hour or so after sunset down here on Earth.

Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #3

Once the sky got darker, Jupiter stood out better, shining to the left of the Moon.

Jupiter is now also closest to Earth and brightest for 2015. It will dominate our eastern sky for the rest of the winter and early spring, eventually shining to the south as night falls in late spring.

– Alan, February 3, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

A Stunning Sky of Subtle Glows


Zodiacal Light Panorama (Circular)

What a fabulous night! The desert sky was full of subtle glows and myriad stars.

Friday, January 16 was a stunning evening for stargazing. I took the opportunity to shoot a 360° panorama of the evening sky, recording a host of subtle glows.

The Zodiacal Light reaches up from the western horizon and the last vestiges of evening twilight. This is the glow of sunlight reflecting off cometary dust particles in the inner solar system. From the clear desert skies it is brilliant.

The dark of the Moon periods in January, February and March are the best times of the year to see the evening Zodiacal Light from the northern hemisphere.

The Milky Way arches across the eastern sky from Cygnus to Canis Major. That’s light from billions of stars in our Galaxy.

At centre, in the circular fish-eye image above, is the small wisp of green Comet Lovejoy, near the zenith overhead and appearing at the apex of the Zodiacal Light’s tapering pyramid of light.

Zodiacal Light Panorama (Rectilinear)

This view is from the same images used to create the circular all-sky scene at top, but projected in a rectangular 360° format.

Technical notes:

I shot 8 segments for the panorama, each a 1-minute exposure at f/2.8 with a 15mm lens oriented in portrait mode, and using a Canon 6D at ISO 3200. There was no tracking – the camera was just on a tripod. Each segment is 45° apart.

I used PTGui software to stitch the segments into one seamless scene.

— Alan, January 16, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Shooting the Inner Planet Pairing


Mercury & Venus in Close Conjunction (Jan. 10, 2015)

Here is the Mercury-Venus conjunction for real, from Saturday night.

In my last post I described the upcoming weekend conjunction of Mercury near Venus. Well, here’s the real thing, in shots from Saturday night, January 10.

Mercury is the dimmer of the two objects in the colourful evening twilight in the enchanted skies of New Mexico.

The top photo is a “normal” lens view of the scene. The photo below zooms in on the pair with a telephoto lens.

Mercury & Venus Conjunction Closeup (Jan. 10, 2015)

Mercury is nearing its greatest angle away from the Sun and will remain near Venus for the next week. So if skies are clear in the early evening, take a look. Mercury is very easy to sight with unaided eyes. If you have not seen the innermost planet, this is a good chance to check it off your “to see” list.

A fact to keep in mind: both planets have probes orbiting them, but both are nearing the end of their missions. Europe’s Venus Express has ended its mission and is about to make its final plunge into the dense Venusian atmosphere.

At Mercury, NASA’s Messenger probe has gained a small reprieve, with it now expecting to impact on Mercury at the end of April, a month later than expected.

— Alan, January 10, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Free Sky Calendar for a Starry New Year


Sky Calendar Front Page

As a special New Year’s gift I have prepared a free Calendar of celestial events for 2015.

I have lots of photos and I maintain a personal calendar to remind me of the year’s astronomical events. So why not combine them into a pictorial sky calendar anyone can use!

So I’ve prepared a free 2015 Sky Calendar as a PDF you can download.

To get it, please visit my website page at http://www.amazingsky.com/about-alan.html and scroll to the bottom of the page for a link. It’s a 5 meg download.

The sky events listed are for North America. While most will be visible around the world the timing may be off for other locations. Many thanks for visiting and following my blog this past year. I wish everyone a happy and celestial 2015.

– Alan, December 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Ring Around the Moon


Halo Around the Moon (Dec 1, 2014)

Ice crystals create a ring of light around the waxing Moon.

Clouds have moved in this week in New Mexico but the advancing weather system also brought an atmosphere filled with high altitude ice crystals.

Earlier this week they created a lunar halo – a ring around the Moon. If you look closely you’ll see there are two rings. On the left and right sides (east and west) the halo splits into two. This is an effect of two haloes superimposed: the classic 22° halo and what’s called the “circumscribed halo” which changes shape and size depending on the altitude of the Sun or Moon.

In this case, the Moon was 62° up, and the appearance of the circumscribed halo exactly matches what computer simulations predict for this altitude.

See Les Cowley’s wonderful website on Atmospheric Optics and the page on the shape of the circumscribed halo.

The long 30-second exposure brought out the stars in the moonlit sky.

They say such haloes presage poor weather. This week that proved true as clouds and rain moved in.

– Alan, December 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Dark Side of the Moon in Twilight


Crescent Moon with Earthshine Amid Stars

The waxing crescent Moon shines amid the stars and deep blue twilight.

This was the scene last night, as the two-day-old Moon reappeared in the evening sky as a thin crescent.

The Moon looks full because most of the side facing us was brilliantly lit by Earthshine, sunlight reflected off the Earth and lighting the Moon. Here, only the thin crescent at right is directly lit by the Sun.

This was a particularly bright example of Earthshine, likely because so much of the northern part of the Earth is now covered with cloud and snow, making Earth even more reflective than it usually is.

To capture this scene through a telescope, I shot a set of high-dynamic-range exposures, from long to short, to capture the huge range in brightness from the dayside to the darkside of the Moon. The long exposure also captured the stars in the deep blue twilight of a clear New Mexico sky.

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

New Mexico Moonrise


Moonrise at City of Rocks Panorama

The Full Moon rises with the blue arc of Earth’s shadow over a New Mexico landscape.

I’m now in New Mexico for the winter, enjoying the clear skies and mild temperatures. After a few days of settling into the winter home, tonight was my first venture out to take advantage of the skies and shoot some images.

Tonight was Full Moon, a month after the total lunar eclipse. I drove out to the City of Rocks State Park to capture the moonrise over the unique desert landscape.

The main image above captures the Full Moon sitting amid the dark blue arc of Earth’s shadow rising in the east projected onto Earth’s atmosphere. It is rimmed above with a pink band, the “Belt of Venus,” caused by red sunlight still illuminating the high atmosphere. The image is a 5-section panorama.

In the clear air of New Mexico the shadow and Belt of Venus really stand out.

Moonrise at City of Rocks

A few minutes later, with the Moon higher and sky darker, I trekked amid the unusual rock formations of the Park, to shoot the Moon amid an alien lunar landscape.

These two images are both “high dynamic range” stacks of 7 to 8 images, from short to long exposures, to capture the wide range of brightness in a twilight scene, from the dark foreground to the bright Moon.

Full Moon at City of Rocks

I’m looking forward to a productive winter, photographing the sky and writing about photo techniques, rather than shovelling snow!

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

Open Road, Open Sky


Open Road and Open Sky

A desert highway leads off into an open blue sky with the waxing Moon.

This week I’m on the road heading south for the winter. Today, I was on US 89, one of the most spectacular roads on the continent, passing through southern Utah and northern Arizona.

At left are the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, contrasting with the blue sky and the quarter Moon rising in the east at right.

Waxing Moon over Vermilion Cliffs

I took this view minutes earlier, from a viewpoint above the desert as US 89 descends from the Kaibab Plateau and the area around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I have not driven through this area of the U.S. Southwest in 20 years. I’ll be back through here in spring, when I hope to shoot the April 4 total lunar eclipse from the Four Corners area.

– Alan, October 30, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

The Rising of a Pre-Eclipse Moon


Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #4 (Oct 6, 2014)

‘Twas the night before the night before … an eclipse of the Moon.

This was the beautiful moonrise tonight, on Monday, October 6, two days – by calendar date – before the total lunar eclipse on October 8.

However, as the eclipse occurs at pre-dawn on October 8, it’s really just a day and half to go before the Moon turns red as it passes through Earth’s shadow.

I shot these as the gibbous Moon, waxing toward Full, rose over the harvested field to the east of home. The setting Sun nicely lit the clouds which partly hide the Moon.

Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #1 (Oct 6, 2014)

Earlier in the evening, I grabbed this shot as the Moon appeared and two white-tailed deer ran through the yard and out into the field below the rising Moon. Moon deer!

TLE2014Oct08-MDT

This is the sequence that will happen early on October 8, in a diagram courtesy Fred Espenak at EclipseWise.com. The times are for Mountain Daylight, my local time zone. The eclipse will be total from 4:25 to 5:24 a.m. MDT (6:25 to 7:24 a.m. EDT) when the Moon will be immersed in the umbral shadow and will appear deep red.

Use binoculars for the best view of the colours. An eclipsed Moon looks wonderful, like a glowing red globe lit from within, but it’s really lit by the red sunlight from all the sunsets and sunrises going on around the world at once.

The next total lunar eclipses are April 4, 2015 (again pre-dawn) and September 27, 2015 (at convenient early evening hours), both visible from North America.

Clear skies and happy eclipsing!

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

 

Aurora and Airglow Panorama


Aurora & Airglow Panorama

The sky lights up in greens and reds from aurora and airglow.

This has been a good week for aurora watching. Friday night the Northern Lights danced again, this time in a sky already filled with a more subtle phenomenon, airglow.

Airglow adds its own bands of reds and greens across the sky, seen here as arcs from left (west) to centre (north) and into the east. Airglow is light from fluorescing air molecules releasing energy absorbed from the Sun by day.

The aurora adds the brighter green curtains across the north with vertical beams of yellow and red shooting up.

A weird structure which I assume is from the aurora is the sharp-edged yellow band at left in the west. It lasted no more than 2 or 3 minutes, enough to record in three frames of this 7-segment 180° panorama taken near home at an array of grain bins, now filled from the harvest.

To the west and east urban light pollution adds glows of yellow to the horizon.

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

 

Autumn Stars Rising over Dinosaur Park


Autumn Sky Rising over Badlands

The autumn constellations rise into a colourful sky at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta.

Last night the sky started out beautifully clear but as it got darker it was apparent even to the eye that the sky wasn’t really dark, despite the lack of any Moon.

The camera captured the culprit – extensive green airglow, to the east at right. A faint aurora also kicked up to the north, at left, adding a red glow. Light pollution from gas plants nearby and from Brooks 50 km away added yellow to the sky scattered off haze and incoming cloud.

The sky colours added to the scene of the autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus and Pegasus rising in the east. The Andromeda Galaxy is at centre. The Pleiades is (are?) just rising over the hill.

This is a composite of five stacked and tracked exposures for the sky (with the camera on the Star Adventurer tracking mount) and four stacked but untracked exposures I took at the end of the sequence for the sharp ground (I just turned the tracker motor off for these).

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

 

Standing Under the Stars at Grasslands Park


Standing Under the Stars at Grasslands Park

Grasslands National Park is one of the finest places in Canada to revel in the dark night sky.

This was the scene last night, in far south Saskatchewan, under clear and super dark night skies, at long last after a week of rain, wind and wintery cold.

I’m at Grasslands National Park south of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, to shoot night sky panoramas in what must rank as Canada’s darkest Dark Sky Preserve.

The park itself is new, created only a decade and half ago. It preserves original prairie grasses and is home to unique and rare species. Bison roam here, allowing you to travel back to pre-European times as you gaze out onto a landscape much as it was for thousands of years.

But look up at night and you can gaze at a sky as it was seen for thousands of years, mostly unblemished by the artificial glows of light pollution. Grasslands National Park is a “dark sky preserve,” allowing visitors to see the stars and Milky Way as they should be seen.

I shot this 360° panorama from the Eagle Butte Loop Trail just inside the boundary of the Park. The main hill is 70 Mile Butte, a landmark to the early NorthWest Mounted Police as it lay 70 miles from their posts at Wood Mountain to the east and Eastend to the west.

This view looks out across the farmland to the west and a handful of yard lights. But little else spoils the view around the rest of the horizon. The last vestiges of evening twilight provide a backdrop for the lone silhouette.

The Milky Way arches overhead, and some bands of green airglow, a natural night sky phenomenon, stretch from east to west. The centre of the Milky Way Galaxy lies to the far right, with its glowing clouds of stars.

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

Twilight and Moonlight at Waterfowl Lakes


Twilight at Waterfowl Lakes

Peaks of the Continental Divide reflect in the calm waters of Lower Waterfowl Lake.

These images provide a sense of what a beautiful night this was, last Monday on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

The evening started with a super-clear twilight providing subtle shadings – from the last glow of sunset on the horizon, through the “twilight purple” above, to the deep blue of the darkening sky at top.

The purple hue comes from red sunlight still illuminating the upper atmosphere and blending with the blue sky from the usual scattering of short blue wavelengths.

The twilight scene is a high-dynamic range blend of several exposures processed with Photoshop’s HDR Pro as a 32-bit file in Adobe Camera Raw.

Star Trails over Waterfowl Lke v1

Taking different frames from the same set that I used to capture the Space Station I created this star trail scene, of the western stars setting over Mt. Cephren. Light from the one-day-past Full Moon illuminated the peaks that line the Continental Divide.

The star trail scene is a composite – of many images stacked to create the star trails, blended with a masked single image from the set to supply the landscape.

For the star trail stacking I used the excellent Advanced Stacker Plus actions from Star Circle Academy. To separate and mask out the sky from the landscape image I used Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool and its wonderful Refine Mask function.

– Alan, August 16, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Moonbow at Bow Falls


Star Trails & Moonbow over Bow Falls

A small moonbow forms in the light of the full “super moon” at Bow Falls in Banff.

This was Sunday night, August 10, on the night of the bright “super moon” that lit the landscape. In this case, I was at Bow Falls, a popular tourist spot in the townsite of Banff below the Banff Springs Hotel.

However, by night only a handful of people appeared, including two who stayed still long enough to record on one frame, above.

The sky, however, is made of many frames, exposed over an hour to add the star trails. But the landscape is from one exposure, and includes a short arc of a moonbow, a rainbow created from moonlight.

Big Dipper Star Trails over Bow Falls

In an alternative version, sans moonbow, I shot one short and several long exposures to capture the stars of the Big Dipper streaking over the falls.

These are two more examples of how magical the mountains are by moonlight. And how quiet the usually busy tourist spots are!

– Alan, August 15, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Sunset over David Thompson Country


Howse Pass Viewpoint Panorama (Partial)

The setting sun lights the clouds over the river plains of the North Saskatchewan.

This was the panoramic view two evenings ago from the Howse Pass viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

We’re looking south over the North Saskatchewan River near its junction with the Howse and Mistaya Rivers. The spot is near where Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway, comes in from the east to join the Parkway. It’s a modern highway now but 200 years ago this was a main canoe route for the fur trade.

The area is known as David Thompson Country, named for the great explorer, surveyor, and celestial navigator who mapped much of western Canada in the early 1800s.

Until about 1810, Thompson passed this way every year en route to the fur trade forts he set up in the B.C. interior, his main job for the North West Company.

Conflicts with the local Pikanii people, who objected to Thompson trading with and arming their traditional enemies, the Kootenais, forced Thompson to find a new route across the Rockies, the Athabasca Pass in what is now Jasper National Park.

Howse Pass Viewpoint Sunset Panorama (Full)

The top image is a 180° panorama, the bottom image is a full 360° panorama from the viewpoint. In the distance are Mt. Murchison, at left, and Mt. Cephren in the far distance, the prominent peak by Waterfowl Lakes.

I shot these with a 14mm lens, in portrait orientation, and stitched them with PTGui software. The top image is made from 6 segments, the bottom from 12 segments.

The software blended them perfectly, no small feat in such a uniform twilight sky. I’m always impressed with it!

– Alan, August 14, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Prairie Sunset Panorama


Prairie Sunset Panorama

What a spectacular sunset tonight. The Sun is just going down in a blaze of red, while the waxing Moon shines in the deep blue twilight.

I grabbed the camera fast when I saw this happening out my front window, and raced out to the ripening wheat field across the road.

The top image is a 360° panorama of the sky, with the Sun at right and the Moon left of centre. The zenith is along the top of the image.

I used a 14mm lens in portrait mode to cover the scene from below the horizon to the zenith, taking 7 segments to sweep around the scene.

You can see the darkening of the sky at centre, 90° away from the Sun, due to natural polarization of the skylight.

Red Sun in a Prairie Sunset

I shot this sunset image a little earlier, when the Sun was higher but still deep red in the smoky haze that has marked the sky of late. It certainly gives the scene a divine appearance!

This is a 5-exposure high-dynamic-range composite to capture the tonal range from bright sky to darker ground, the wheat field. I increased the contrast to bring out the cloud shadows – crepuscular rays.

I boosted colour vibrancy but didn’t alter the actual colours – it was a superb sky.

I used PTGui v10 to stitch the panorama at top and Photomatix Pro to stack and tone the HDR set. While Photoshop is wonderful it did not work for assembling either of these images.

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

 

Rainbow at Blackfoot Crossing


Rainbow at Blackfoot Crossing #2

A low rainbow shines beneath a retreating thunderstorm at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.

On my way home from Waterton Lakes I drove through a thunderstorm, then watched it retreat and the Sun break through in the west. I was hoping for a rainbow in the east, and sure enough, one appeared.

With the Sun still high in the late afternoon sky, the rainbow was low, with just a small arc appearing above the horizon.

By good luck, I was passing the hilltop Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, a beautiful museum interpreting the history of the Siksika Nation, and a great place to look out over the prairie.

These photos look down a line of rock cairns running from the interpretive centre to the hilltop cemetery in the distance, below the arc of the bow.

Rainbow at Blackfoot Crossing #1

This wider angle image gives the context, with the bow at the bottom of the thundercloud, and fresh blue sky above.

I love the mountains but it’s nice to be back home on the prairies where we can see the wide horizon.

– Alan, July 20, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Wild Rose Twilight at Red Rock Canyon


Waterton Wild Rose Twilight

Evening light illuminates the peaks around Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Lakes National Park.

I took this image last evening as part of a time-lapse sequence, framing the wild roses in the foreground and the peaks of Mount Blakiston (at left) and Mount Anderson (at right) in the distance. The site is the popular Red Rock Canyon area of the Park.

The last rays of sunlight are hitting Blakiston.

That peak is named for Thomas Blakiston, the first scientific explorer to map the area of Waterton and the passes of the southern Canadian Rockies. Although at the time he was here in 1858, this was still British colonial territory separated from the United States by an ill-defined border running along the 49th parallel just south of this spot.

Blakiston was part of the British Palliser Expedition, led by John Palliser, whose mission was to survey the little-known region south of the South Saskatchewan River to assess its suitability for settlement.

Palliser concluded that the parched rain-shadow area of what is now southern Saskatchewan and Alberta was “desert, or semi-desert in character, which can never be expected to become occupied by settlers.” That area became known as the Palliser Triangle. Only extensive irrigation made settlement possible.

Blakiston was the expedition’s magnetical observer, taking readings of the Earth’s magnetic field strength and direction throughout the region. He disputed Palliser’s leadership and soon broke away from the expedition to conduct his own treks and compile his own reports. It was Blakiston who named the area after Charles Waterton, a famous British naturalist of the time. The region became a nationally-recognized park in 1895

— Alan, July 18, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset over Waterton Lakes


Waterton Lakes Sunset

The setting Sun lights the clouds over Upper Waterton Lake, Alberta.

Waterton Lakes National Park is certainly one of my favourite places. The scenery is wonderful and the town small and quiet. It has all the beauty of Banff with none of the retail sprawl and traffic jams.

I shot the scene above two evenings ago, July 15, from the viewpoint at the Prince of Wales Hotel. It overlooks Middle and Upper Waterton Lakes, the latter lighting up as it reflects the sunset clouds. This is a frame from a motion-control time-lapse.

Waterton Lakes Trees

Last night I shot a time-lapse from the lakeshore, looking through the windswept trees toward the south end of the Upper Lake, as the Milky Way begins to appear in the darkening twilight.

Lights from the campground illuminate the trees with just enough light to balance the foreground and sky. Sometimes you can make use of man-made light.

I’m here at Waterton to conduct some public programs Friday and Saturday night. Skies are clear but hazy with smoke and cirrus clouds. But the days and nights are warm and aren’t windy, a welcome treat in Waterton!

– Alan, July 17, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Super Moonrise over Canola Field


Super Moonrise over Canola Field

The orange Full Moon – a hyped “super moon” – rises over a yellow field of canola.

What a colourful sky this was tonight – the pink Belt of Venus twilight band above the blue shadow of the Earth, above the yellow ripening canola.

And the orange Full Moon embedded in our planet’s shadow.

The onslaught of publicity about super moons this week – it seems we now have not one but several a year making them all a lot less super! – does serve one purpose: it gets people out looking at the Moon they might otherwise take for granted.

Supermoon or not, this confluence of colours can occur any time the Full Moon rises. But if you aren’t outside watching you miss it.

– Alan, July 12, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Sunset over the Lonely Log Cabin


Log Cabin at Sunset

The clouds paint the sky at sunset over a pioneer cabin in the Cypress Hills.

This is a scene the original resident of this cabin would have enjoyed – and painted.

This lonely log cabin in the Battle Creek valley was built by Robert David Symons, renowned as a rancher, naturalist, game warden, and painter, in the style of western artists such as Charlie Russell.

The cabin looks like it dates from the pioneer days of the first European settlement of the area, in the late 19th century. But Symons settled here and built this log cabin in 1939, during the time he worked as a game warden in the Hills, posted at the Battle Creek Ranger Station. He lived in the cabin for only three years before selling it to Albert and Sylvia Noble in 1942.

The Nobles expanded the cabin to accommodate their family. They lived here for 10 years, working a sawmill in the area.

Today the cabin is a scenic stop on the rough and often muddy Battle Creek Road that winds from the Alberta to the Saskatchewan side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Travelling it is like being back in the 1940s, when roads were no better than improved cart tracks.

Shooting Time-Lapses at Cypress Hills Log Cabin

I spent an evening here two nights ago on a perfect summer night, shooting the sunset and then the cabin scene by moonlight using time-lapse cameras and gear.

The main scene at top is a high dynamic range stack of 6 images to preserve details in the bright sky and dark foreground.

The self-portrait is a single shot taken by moonlight. Mars and Spica are just setting as a pair of stars over the hills across the valley.

It was a magical night in the Hills.

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Wild Rose Sunset


Wild Rose Sunset

The sky lights up pink to match the wild roses in Cypress Hills.

Last night the twilight sky over the Cypress Hills was simply stunning. The clouds contrasted with the blues and pinks of twilight. On the way out to an evening shoot I stopped to take this image of the darkening sky colours behind the blooming wild roses, the floral emblem of Alberta.

In this photograph I’m looking east, opposite the sunset. The dark blue on the horizon is the shadow of the Earth rising. Above the shadow is a fringe of pink, the Belt of Venus, from red sunlight still lighting the upper atmosphere in that direction. Its colour nicely matches the pink roses – Earth and sky in colour coordination.

This is a high dynamic range stack of 6 exposures, to capture the bright sky and darker foreground in one image, to render the scene as the eye saw it but the camera could not, at least not with a single exposure.

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

 

Sunset on the Range


Sunset on the Range

The setting Sun provided a fine light show on the open range of the Canadian Prairies.

This was the scene Friday evening, July 4, as the Sun lit up the clouds in the big sky of the Historic Reesor Ranch.

I’m here for a week of intensive shooting and writing. On the first night the setting Sun put on a fine show, captured in still images, like the high dynamic range composite above, and in time-lapses captured with the motion control gear below.

Reesor Ranch Sunset Shoot #4

When I took these shots I was likely right on the 105th meridian, the line of longitude that marks the boundary of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Either way, the land is expansive and stunning.

Just to the south the land rises to the Cypress Hills and the namesake provincial park where I’m spending most nights shooting stills and time-lapses. More to come this week I’m sure!

– Alan, July 7, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

A Windy Day on the Wind Farm


Windfarm Cloudscape

It was windy day out on the wind farm, with some wonderful cloudscapes blowing by.

Shooting time-lapse movies by day is so much easier than shooting at night! Yesterday, to try out some new gear and grab footage for some demo videos, I drove to the nearby Wintering Hills Wind Farm, site of some previous images and movies I’ve posted. It’s a wonderful place for nightscapes, but in this case I shot cloudscapes by day.

The movie compiles five time-lapse clips into a short demo of cloudscapes and time-lapse techniques: using fixed cameras and using cameras on motorized devices that move the camera a little between each time-lapse frame – what’s called “motion control.”

It might take a moment to load and play through. But do expand it to full screen.

 

For two clips in the movie I used a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly rail, a unit I bought two years ago and have used a lot for time-lapse shooting.

DP Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R on Induros

Here I show it on the new pair of Induro tripods, a much more stable arrangement than the single large tripod I had been using up to now. What’s also new is the Stage R panning unit, now attached to the dolly platform, here on the left (the controller is on the right).

DP Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R CU

What this motorized unit does is allow the camera to slowly turn in azimuth as it is running down the rail, to keep the camera aimed at a foreground subject, or to pan along the horizon, as I do in one of the clips in the movie.

This is a brand new piece of kit, purchased last month through Dynamic Perception’s Kickstarter campaign. I got one of the first batch of units shipped out. It works very well but takes a little practice to get the speeds set right. I’m still working on that!

I hope you enjoy the little demo movie. It shows that even cloudy skies can be photogenic at times!

– Alan, June 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Clouds of Solstice Twilight Are Here!


Noctilucent Clouds Panorama #1 (June 21-22, 2014)

Look north in June and July from the Canadian Prairies and you are likely to see iridescent clouds shimmering in the mid-summer twilight. 

It’s been a good couple of nights for sighting noctilucent clouds – literally “night shining” clouds, or NLCs. These are odd water vapour clouds that form at the edge of space 80 km up where no self-respecting cloud has a right to exist.

But there they are. Existing and moving in waves in a near vacuum.

We see them because at solstice time the Sun’s light pours over the pole (where the midnight Sun is shining) and lights up the clouds that hang over the Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Noctilucent Clouds and Big Dipper

From the Prairies we see them far in the distance to the north, as here, shining low on the horizon amid the deep blues and reds of a perpetual twilight that never ends on our short summer nights.

The top photo, taken Saturday night, is a 5-section panorama with a short telephoto lens. The bottom image, taken early this morning, is just the opposite – a very wide angle shot showing the clouds in context, with the Big and Little Dippers at top left and centre.

Some images and movies from last year’s NLC season are in my blog post from June 27, 2013.

– Alan, June 23, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Storm Clouds and Stars on Solstice Eve


Storm Clouds and Stars (June 20, 2014)

On the eve of summer solstice the sky was filled with an amazing light show.

Living on the great plains of southern Alberta gives me access to the big sky right outside my door. On summer nights, the entertainment is often watching thunderstorms roll across the northern horizon down “hailstorm alley” to the north of me.

That was the case on Friday night, the eve of summer solstice. What a photogenic storm this was! Lightning lit up the roiling cloud from within and, as below, shot out in an escape path toward the ground.

Lightning Bolt and Blue Sky

Despite the midnight hour, the sky is blue with the glow of perpetual twilight at this time of year at 51° north.

As this storm receded, another rolled in, this time directed at my area. Lightning flashed all around (it was too rainy to shoot).

As I was processing these shots, the power flickered, then went off, as a bolt hit someplace critical to the power system. In the country it doesn’t take much to knock out the power to outlying areas. Mine was out for another 14 hours. Thank goodness for laptop batteries!

– Alan, June 23, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Fireflies Dancing on Solstice Eve


Fireflies and Stars

A field of fireflies dances under the stars on the eve of summer solstice.

On Friday, June 20, the night before summer solstice, I had a superb night at home watching storm clouds, fireflies and the glow of perpetual solstice twilight.

June is firefly season and on a warm night I see them dancing and flickering above the grassy field. They appear here as green sparkles and streaks, with the stars above and Milky Way just showing through in the blue of a solstice twilight.

Flashes from distant lightning help illuminate the ground and clouds.

Iridium Satellite Flare (June 20, 2014)

These frames are from a time-lapse sequence, with the frame above picking up few fireflies. But it did reveal the streak from an Iridium satellite flaring in the sunlight as it flew overhead.

While the sky from my latitude of 51° North never gets dark at this time of year it is filled with other beautiful sky glows and phenomena.

– Alan, June 22, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Rainbow at Sunset


Rainbow over Prairie Field (Wide-Angle)As the setting Sun broke through clouds it created a rainbow over my backyard.

I see lots of fine sky phenomena right from my back deck. Such was the case last evening as a storm retreated east as they typically do. Clearing skies in the west allowed the Sun to shine through, the perfect combination for a rainbow.

For the main image above I shot the double rainbow with the ultra-wide 14mm Rokinon lens …

Rainbow over Prairie Field (Fish-Eye

… and also with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens for this image. It’s angled to be suitable for re-projection in a tilt-dome planetarium theatre.

We’re into stormy spring weather here in Alberta, so there will be many more rainbows to follow the dark clouds. Let’s hope for no more floods like last June.

– Alan, June 1, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

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

 

 

Sunset at the City of Rocks


Sunset at the City of Rocks (May 2, 2014)

The Sun sets behind the desert landscape of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.

This is another shot from two nights ago, May 2, taken during my evening shoot at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park. I took this right at sunset, and you might be able to see the tiny crescent Moon in the twilight sky.

I used an ultra-wide 14mm lens and took a set of 7 exposures taken at 2/3rds stop intervals to capture the full range of brightness from brilliant Sun to shadowy landscape.

I stacked the exposures using Photoshop’s HDR Pro module and then “tone-mapped” the huge range of tonal values using Adobe Camera Raw in its 32 bit mode. This is an excellent way to process “HDR” images, compressing the huge range in brightness into one displayable image. I’ve used several HDR programs in the past but the new method of being able to use ACR, made available in recent updates to Photoshop CC, produces superb natural-looking results. I highly recommended it.

— Alan, May 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

New Mexico New Moon


New Mexico New Moon (April 30, 2014)

The thin waxing crescent Moon returned to the evening sky tonight, seen here in the deepening blue of a New Mexico evening.

I’m in Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5900 feet) for a few days and nights, checking out places to spend next winter, under clearer and warmer skies than back home … and with rarely any snow to shovel.

This was the scene tonight, on the ranch road with one of the prime property choices – astronomers check real estate locations by day and night!

The crescent Moon is lit by Earthshine as it sits amid the deep blue twilight. The stars of Taurus show up flanking the Moon, with the Hyades at left and Pleiades at right.

This image is a high-dynamic range stack of 6 exposures from 2 to 20 seconds, to capture the ground detail without blowing out the Moon. Lights from an approaching pickup truck nicely lit the trees during the final longest exposure.

For the technically minded, I stacked the images using Photoshop CC HDR Pro, then “tone-mapped” them using Adobe Camera Raw in 32 bit mode.

Sunset from Silver City, New Mexico

The sky was hazy all day and evening, from wind-blown dust common to the area. Fierce southerly winds were whipping up dust all day, which hung in the sky all evening as well.

The sunset was a golden yellow from all the dust in the air. Once it got dark the sky lacked the ideal desert transparency, muting the zodiacal light I saw last night from the Chiricahuas.

Not every night is perfect in the high desert!

– Alan, April 30, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

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

 

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

Aurora Shining Through the Clouds


Churchill Aurora Feb 2-3, 2014

Tonight the aurora shone so brightly for a time it was visible through the cloud.

Here at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we’ve been battling clouds all week. But on several nights the clouds have cleared for 30 minutes or more, enough to give us glimpses of the aurora and stars. Tonight, February 2/3, the clouds never did clear away enough for a great view. This was as good as it got, with the Northern Lights shining through haze and cloud but nevertheless filling the sky.

Remarkably, this was on a night when the usual indicators of auroral activity were registering all quiet. This shows the benefit of traveling north to stand right under the auroral oval, the zone of maximum activity. In this case I’m at 58° North, in Churchill, Manitoba. Even on a quiet night the Churchill sky can be filled with curtains of dancing colours.

– Alan, February 3, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Underneath the Northern Lights


Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #1

Our tour group to see the Northern Lights finally saw what they traveled north to experience – the aurora borealis dancing across the sky.

This week and next I’m helping to lead some tour groups who have come to Churchill, Manitoba to see the aurora. We’ve been here 3 nights so far but last night was the first with clearing skies and when the Northern Lights appeared above us.

Our home base is the beautiful Churchill Northern Studies Centre, far enough from the main townsite to give us dark skies. Being able to sleep, eat and take in lectures (or for me, give lectures) right where we can see the aurora is a tremendous luxury and convenience. The Centre is perfectly set up for aurora viewing, with a rooftop dome, and the ability to “go dark” with all lights off. 

Here in Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay, we are at a latitude of 58° north. But critically, we are right under the usual position of the auroral oval, the main band of Northern Lights that circles the world at high latitudes. 

Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #3

As such, even though last night the various aurora and magnetic field indicators were registering a quiet display with little disturbance in the field, we still saw a beautiful display. It wasn’t very active but did display curtains and rays shooting up to the zenith.

Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #4

As seen here, for much of the time the main band of aurora was actually in the south. That’s Jupiter glowing through the aurora and thin clouds at upper right.

We’ve been fighting clouds all week but last night skies cleared for long enough and it seemed at just the right time to coincide with the brightest outburst of this display. After I took these images, the aurora died down to a more diffuse glow then the clouds thickened in again. By then it was 3 am and we all retired to our rooms. 

– Alan, February 2, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Music Video – Sky Events of 2013


 

My 2-minute music video looks back at some of the celestial highlights of 2013, in images and videos I captured. 

Some of the events and scenes I show were accessible to everyone who looked up. But some required a special effort to see.

• In 2013 we had a couple of nice comets though not the spectacle hoped for from Comet ISON.

• Chris Hadfield became a media star beaming videos and tweets from the Space Station. We on Earth could look up and see his home sailing through the stars.

• The sky hosted a few nice conjunctions of planets, notably Mars, Venus and Jupiter in late May.

• The Sun reached its peak in solar activity (we think!) unleashing solar storms and some wonderful displays of northern lights.

• Locally, record rain storms in Alberta unleashed floods of devastating consequences in June, with a much publicized super moon in the sky.

• For me, the summer proved a productive one for shooting the “star” of the summer sky, the Milky Way.

• But the year-end finale was most certainly the total eclipse of the Sun on November 3. Few people saw it. I did, from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The video ends with that sight and experience, the finest the sky has to offer.

I hope you enjoy this music video mix of time-lapse, real-time video and still images, shot from Alberta, New Mexico and from the Atlantic.

You can watch a better quality version of this video at my Vimeo channel.

Clear skies for 2014!

– Alan, January 1, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Solar Halo in a Cold Blue Sky


Solar Halo and Sundogs (Dec 19, 2013) #2

A solar halo and sundogs surround the Sun on a cold winter day in Alberta.

I’m back home amid the snow and cold. The one celestial treat to such a clear but cold winter day is the appearance of sundogs and solar halos around the cold Sun.

This was this morning, with the low winter Sun above my snow-covered backyard, and the air filled with tiny ice crystals. You can see them as sparkly “stars” in the sky and in the foreground. Those crystals are refracting the sunlight and making the coloured “rainbows” on either side of the Sun called “parhelia” or sundogs. A faint halo encircles the Sun, topped by an upper tangent arc.

You can read more about halos and their origin at Les Cowley’s AtmosphericOptics website.

Solar Halo and Sundogs (Dec 19, 2013) #1

Here’s another view with a wider-angle lens. I’ve punched up the vibrance to bring out the fact that the shadows on such a day are not black or grey but blue, coloured by the intense blue light streaming down from the sky.

With these winter scenes, I wish all my blog fans and followers a very Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a very happy New Year. Clear skies to all in 2014!

 

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

 

Moon over the Chiricahuas


Moon over the Chiricahua Mountains #1

The waxing gibbous Moon rises over the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.

This was the stunning scene on Sunday night, December 15, as I drove out to Chiricahua National Monument south of Willcox, Arizona for some moonlight photography. I stopped on Highway 186 to catch the colourful twilight in the east with the Moon rising over the desert mountains.

Moon over the Chiricahua Mountains #4

This image, taken a few minutes later, shows a darker sky but with more prominent crepuscular rays – shadows cast by distant clouds to the west where the Sun set. A photogenically placed windmill adds to the scene.

I love the contrast of Earth tones and twilight tints – a very desert-like palette.

– Alan, December 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Colours of Iridescent Clouds


Iridescent Clouds at White Sands #3

High clouds shimmer with iridescent colours near the Sun in an unusual display of atmospheric optics.

As I was getting ready to shoot the sunset at White Sands National Monument last evening, December 10, I looked up at the late afternoon Sun and saw it embedded in thin clouds tinted with iridescent colours. My dark sunglasses helped me see the phenomenon by eye, and underexposing the image helped me capture the colours by camera.

The effect is more common than you might think, but being so close to the blinding Sun iridescent clouds often go unnoticed. The almost metallic-looking colours are caused by clouds made of water droplets of such a uniform size they diffract the sunlight and spread the white light into a stunning range of colours.

Iridescent Clouds at White Sands #1

This image frames the scene in portrait mode. I took several images over the few minutes the effect lasted. But the clouds soon moved off or changed structure and the iridescence faded. Despite the Sun shining through similar looking thin clouds the next evening, December 11, I saw no such iridescence.

For more information see Les Cowley’s excellent page at his Atmospheric Optics website.

It’s just another example of the wonderful phenomena of light and colour that the sky can present to the watchful.

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

 

Sunset at White Sands


Sunset at White Sands, New Mexico (Dec 10, 2013)

The setting Sun sets the sky on fire above the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument.

A week ago I was at Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona for the sunset. This was the scene tonight, at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

I was on top of a sand dune at the Yucca picnic area on the Loop Road, watching an amazing sunset over the dunes. The clouds lit up on cue and Venus began to appear, visible here left of centre. The horizon was rimmed with a rainbow of twilight tints.

It was a cool evening, and driving on the unpaved Loop Road graded out of the white sand made me feel I was back home driving on a snow-covered back road. But the white stuff wasn’t snow but pure white gypsum.

This image is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) stack of seven exposures taken at 2/3rd stop increments and composited with Photomatix Pro. The technique brings out details in the shadowy landscape while preserving the bright sky. I used the 14mm Rokinon lens on the Canon 5D MkII. Final processing was in Photoshop CC.

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

 

Skyglows Galore in the New Mexico Dawn


New Mexico Pre-Dawn Skyglow Panorama (Dec 2013)

A mix of sky glows fills the pre-dawn sky in New Mexico.

To the eye the sky looked dark, marred only by some high haze drifting through. But the camera reveals a sky filled with an amazing wealth of colourful glows.

I took this 360° panorama in the pre-dawn hours (4:45 a.m.) this morning (December 8) from the Painted Pony Resort in southwest New Mexico. It reveals a swath of green airglow to the north, the zodiacal light, and the Milky Way. At northern latitudes there was bright aurora visible last night. We might have seen some sign of it here in New Mexico in the form of increased airglow activity.

The panorama takes in, from left to right:
• Arcturus, shining like an ornament on the treetop
• the zodiacal light rising up from the east
• red Mars embedded in the zodiacal light below Leo
• the Milky Way from Puppis and Canis Major at left arching up and across the sky down into Perseus at right
• Sirius the brightest star
• Orion setting over the main house
• Jupiter, the bright object at top centre in Gemini
• Aldebaran and the Pleiades setting right of the main house in Taurus
• Polaris over the smaller house at right
• the Big Dipper at upper right pointing down to Polaris
• a green glow along the northern horizon above the smaller house that is likely intense airglow.
• green and red bands throughout the sky are airglow, caused by atmospheric molecules flourescing at night
• bands of high cloud also permeate the sky adding natural glows around the stars.

I stitched this panorama using PTGui software, from 6 segments, all tracked, taken with the 14mm Rokinon lens at f/2.8 for 2.5 minutes each and with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600.

As a postscript — this is blog post #401 from me.

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

Twilight in the Chiricahuas


Evening Twilight in the Chiricahuas, Arizona (Dec 3, 2013)

The colours of twilight illuminate the eroded rock formations of Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.

This was the scene tonight, Tuesday, December 3, as night fell over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. The landscape below is a maze of eroded towers of ancient volcanic ash. The sky above is one of the finest on the continent for stargazing.

I spent a week or so here back in May 1995, stargazing with friends from the parking lot at Massai Point at the summit of the Chiricahuas. Tonight was my first visit back to that parking lot in 18 years. The evening was just as windy as I remember it in 1995. And as it was back then, Venus was in the western sky tonight.

Sunset in the Chiricahuas, Arizona (Dec 3, 2013)

This was sunset a few minutes earlier when the clouds were lit red by the setting Sun. I used a 24mm lens for this shot but a 14mm lens for the main image above.

Both shots are 7- to 8-frame “high dynamic range” composites that stack images taken in quick succession over a range of exposures from 2 stops under to 2 stops overexposed. The stack of images, when merged with HDR software, captures what one exposure cannot, due to the huge contrast between the bright sky and the dark foreground at twilight. I used Photomatix Pro software to do the merging and tonal balancing. Such amazing digital tools were unheard of and undreamed of in 1995!

— Alan, December 3, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Green Flash – At Last!


The Green Flash (Nov 15, 2013) from Barbados

At last, I enjoyed a successful attempt to capture the elusive green flash.

During three weeks at sea attempts almost every evening from the ship to sight the green flash always failed, as the Sun set behind low horizon cloud.

But this night, the Sun set into the ocean with a clear horizon. My location was a small public oceanside walkway on Bay Street near Bridgetown, Barbados. It was a great spot to watch the sunset, though our main purpose for stopping there was to pick up some fried chicken at the KFC just steps away!

But the imminent sunset under ideal conditions made it worthwhile sticking around to see if we (I was with two friends from Alberta) could sight the green flash.

We did! I shot a rapid fire sequence – the image above is one frame of many catching the last bit of the Sun remaining above the horizon and turning green.

The infamous green flash is a refraction effect caused by the atmosphere separating out the green light and lifting it higher so it’s the last thing you see as the Sun sets. Conditions aren’t always amenable to seeing the green flash – you need a clear horizon and you also need the atmosphere structured with warm layers near the sea creating a mirage effect.

For more details on the technical explanations see Andrew Young’s page at http://aty.sdsu.edu/ 

… and Les Cowley’s page at http://www.atoptics.co.uk/atoptics/gf1.htm 

Andrew Young has a nice simulation at http://aty.sdsu.edu/explain/simulations/inf-mir/inf-mirSS4GF.html

Sunset from Barbados (Nov 15, 2013)

This was the view moments before, with the lower edge of the setting Sun distorted by atmospheric refraction, a sign that you might see a green flash as the upper edge disappears.

Sunset & Sailing Boat from Barbados

I shot this image a few minutes earlier as a photogenic sailboat drifted into the scene. Red sails in the sunset!

I’m nearing the end of my stay in Barbados and my 4 weeks away from home. There are heavy snowfall warnings out for southern Alberta this weekend so I’m not anxious to return! But winter will be waiting for me next week.

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

 

Red Sky at Night … Sailor’s Delight


Sunset over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013) #2

We saw many wonderful sunsets on our sail across the Atlantic, but this was one of the finest.

This was the sky two nights ago, on the evening of November 8, as the Sun, now below the horizon, lit up the clouds to the west. You can see a few people out in the netting of the bow sprit taking in the view.

Sunset and Sails (Nov 8, 2013)

Here was the view looking up into the square rigged sails on the foremast. “The sky is on fire” was the comment I heard from folks on deck.

Red Rainbow over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013)

Contributing to our theme of a rainbow eclipse trip, a red rainbow appeared to the east, lit by the light of the setting Sun. What a wonderful sky this was!

Indeed, one of the other astronomers on board tallied up the number of naked eye sky sights he had seen on the voyage. It was an impressive list, equalling what had previously taken him over 30 years of sky gazing to accumulate.

I’m writing this post from back on land, now in Barbados at a latitude of 13° north. However, now that I have high-speed connectivity I can get caught up with posts from the sea voyage, with a couple of more to come from at sea.

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

The Rainbow Eclipse


Double Rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean (Nov 3, 2013)

For many of us on board the spv Star Flyer, last Sunday’s eclipse on the Atlantic Ocean will be remembered as much for the rainbows as for the eclipse.

The main image above shows the spectacular and classic double rainbow that appeared before the partial phases began, demonstrating the rain showers and unsettled weather we passed through on eclipse day.

Low Rainbow at the 2013 Eclipse at Sea

The low rainbow shown here appeared well into the partial phase, with 60 to 70 % of the Sun covered, so the source of light is considerably smaller than usual for a rainbow. You can see multiple bands of colour on the inner edge of the inner bow. Seeing this appear and rushing over to shoot it was another exciting moment in a hectic morning of roller coaster emotions. As this bow appeared, the light was beginning to drop rapidly toward the final spectacle of totality.

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

Sailing to the Sun


Cloud Shadows Near Sunset over the Atlantic

As we continue our sail across the Atlantic, our heading takes us southwest, directly toward the setting Sun.

This was the scene last night, a day out from the Canary Islands, as we set our course toward the eclipse intercept point. Our heading of roughly 245° takes us into the setting Sun each evening.

We’re now often under sail alone, with engines off. As Columbus and all trans-Atlantic explorers did, we’re letting the northeast trade winds blow us across the ocean. Under their steady force, we’re making a good 8 to 9 knots, sufficient to get us to the eclipse path on the appointed day and time on November 3.

Moon Amid the Rigging

On that day the Moon, seen here as a waning crescent in yesterday morning’s sky amid our square-rigged sails on the 4-masted Star Flyer, will cover the Sun for 44 seconds.

Tonight, October 28, was a magical night. Many of the eclipse tour folks gathered on the aft deck with all the lights off to lie back on deck chairs and gaze up at the Milky Way, with us now hundreds of kilometres away from any other lights.

We had the Milky Way above, while below, the ocean in our wake was exploding with flashes of bioluminescence. The night was warm and of course windless because we’re travelling with the wind. It was an amazing experience.

— Alan, October 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Moon in Spain …


The Moon over Spain - Daytime

… shines mainly on the plane!

These were views seen from my airplane window earlier this evening as we descended into Madrid, Spain. The lighting, direction and timing were perfect for catching the crystal clear gibbous Moon shining in a beautifully clear sky (as it should be from this altitude) with a low Sun illuminating the clouds.

The view below, taken later after sunset, catches the Moon in a twilight sky, with the  shadow of the Earth sharply defined as a dark blue band above the horizon.

The Moon over Spain - Twilight

In two days, on Friday October 18, the Moon passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow, for a mild penumbral eclipse of the Moon.

I’ll be perfectly positioned in Spain to see it, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m off to chase not the shadow of the Earth but the shadow of the Moon, as it hits the Earth two weeks after the lunar eclipse. On November 3 worlds will align again for a total eclipse of the Sun across the Atlantic Ocean and central Africa. I’ll be on the ocean.

Internet connections willing, I’ll be blogging from shipboard about the eclipse and views of sea and sky as we cross the Atlantic from Spain to Barbados chasing moonshadows.

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

 

Zodiacal Light – Dawn’s Early Light


Zodiacal Light in Dawn Sky (Oct 2013)

The ghostly glow of comet dust brightens an October dawn.

This is the zodiacal light, as it appeared two mornings ago in the pre-dawn sky from my backyard in southern Alberta. This tapering glow angled up from the horizon is best spotted in the eastern sky on clear and moonless autumn mornings, like this one.

What you are seeing is sunlight reflected off dust left by passing comets in the inner solar system. So while this glow looks like it might originate in our atmosphere it really comes from dust out in interplanetary space.

This subtle glow, often called the “false dawn,” appears in the hour or so before the true dawn begins to brighten the sky too much (its purple light is just starting to light the horizon here).

Also visible here: Sirius at far right, Jupiter above centre, the Beehive star cluster below Jupiter, and Leo rising embedded in the zodiacal light, with Mars just above Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. The planets lie along the zodiacal light because the dust that causes it also lies in the same plane as the orbits of the planets, the ecliptic plane.

I shot this with a 14mm lens for a stack of four 2-minute tracked exposures, but with the horizon coming from just one of the exposures to minimize blurring from the moving camera slowly following the sky.

– Alan, October 10, 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

 

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

 

Dinosaur Moon


Waxing Moon in Badlands Twilight (August 18, 2013)

The waxing Moon rises into a colourful twilight sky over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

What a great night it was last night! Warm summer temperatures (at last!) allowed for shirtsleeve shooting even well after dark. To shoot on the warm August night I went out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a magical place to be at sunset and in the summer twilight. The colours on the badlands are wonderful. It’s earth-tones galore, with the banded formations from the late Cretaceous blending with the sagebrush and prairie flowers.

This was the scene after sunset, as the waxing Moon rose into the eastern sky coloured by the blue band of Earth’s shadow, the pink Belt of Venus and dark blue streaks of cloud shadows converging to the point opposite the Sun. That’s where the Moon will be Tuesday night when it’s full. But last night it was a little west of the anti-solar point.

Moon and Sunset Glow at Dinosaur Park (August 18, 2013)

I managed to grab this image as soon as I got to my photo spot on the Badlands Trail, just in time to catch the last rays of the setting Sun illuminating the bentonite hills of the Badlands. Both shots are frames from a 450-frame time-lapse, taken with a device that also slowly panned the camera across the scene over the 90-minute shoot.

It, and three other time-lapses I shot after dark, filled up 40 gigabytes of memory cards. It’s been a terabyte summer for sure!

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

 

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

 

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

 

Moonshadows and Sunbeams


Moonrise Behind Prairie Grain Bins (July 27, 2013)

The play of light and shadow in the open air create wonderful effects by night and day.

The Moon and Sun have each created some wonderful sky scenes of late, aided by clouds casting shadows and sunbeams across the sky.

Above, the rising waning Moon on Saturday night shone its warm light across the prairies. Clouds cast dark shadows diverging away from the Moon.

Daytime Crepuscular Rays #4 (July 24, 2013)

By day, clouds created the opposite effect. Holes in the clouds let through beams of sunlight, creating rays descending from the sky dancing across the land.

Both effects are technically known as crepuscular rays. You can read much more about the phenomenon at the wonderful Atmospheric Optics website. Clouds aren’t always the evil presence in the sky astronomers take them for. They can produce stunning effects. Just look up!

– Alan, July 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

High Plains Panorama of the Night Sky


Cypress Hills Night Panorama (July 15, 2013)

The silvery Milky Way and green bands of airglow stretch across the high plains and big sky of the Cypress Hills.

The Moon had long set and the night looked as dark as it could be. No lights interrupted the flat clear horizon. These are the high plains of the Cypress Hills, the highest place in Canada between Labrador and the Rockies.

And yet, in the panoramic photos I took last night the sky revealed its true colours.

In the 360° panorama above, the Milky Way arches overhead from northeast to southwest. It was obvious to the naked eye. But stretching across the sky from east to west are also bands of green and red airglow that were completely invisible to the eye, except perhaps for making the sky look more grey than it might have otherwise.

These aren’t aurora but are emissions of light caused by oxygen atoms fluorescing as they give off some of the energy they absorbed by day. Time-lapse sequences show these bands moving slowly across the sky.

Shooting the Survivor Tree (July 15, 2013)

I drove up the Graburn Road last night, to the plateau of Cypress Hills, to shoot a time-lapse of the Milky Way moving above this lone tree on the plains. It’s called the Survivor Tree, subject to drought, blizzards fire, cattle, and even being cut down at one time. But still it survives. With a cold wind blowing last night I had a taste of what this tough Lodgepole Pine has had to endure.

Survivor Tree and Milky Way (July 15, 2013)

This is one frame from the final movie clip, with the tree and sky still lit by the light of the setting waxing Moon. An enduring tree beneath the timeless stars.

Noctilucent Clouds from Cypress Hills (July 15, 2013)

Early in the evening the northern sky was also marked by another sky phenomenon, noctilucent clouds – very high altitude clouds still lit by sunlight long after the Sun has set locally. These clouds made for a nice photo for a few minutes but soon faded from view as the Sun set even as seen from where these clouds live at the edge of space.

The night was left dark, with no aurora tonight – just the Milky Way and the faint wisps of airglow over the high plains of southern Alberta.

– Alan, July 16 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Sunset Panorama at Reesor Ranch


Sunset at Reesor Ranch Panorama #1 (July 11, 2013)

The setting Sun lights up a classic Canadian prairie skyscape. 

This was sunset last night, July 11, from the historic Reesor Ranch in southwest Saskatchewan, on the north edge of the Cypress Hills. The clouds opened up across the sky in a Chinook arch, with clearing to the west where the waxing Moon and Venus were also setting into the twilight.

It was a stunning scene looking out over the plains from the highlands of the hills.

I’m in the area for a week of shooting, weather permitting.

This shot is a 7-section panorama, stitched with Photoshop’s Photomerge command.

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

 

 

Sunrise on the Plains


Sunrise on a Canola Field (July 9, 2013)

The Sun rises into a pastel palette of sky and earth tones.

I woke up early, just at sunrise, looked outside and wow!

I grabbed the camera and telephoto and got another nice shot right from my back deck. The canola field next to my yard is proving to be a photogenic foreground now that it’s in full bloom, just in the last couple of weeks.

There was enough haze and humidity in the air to dull the Sun to a fiery orange. The range of shades in earth and sky was wonderful. It was a classic prairie scene worth getting up for.

Being able to see the horizon is why I live on the plains and not in the foothills or mountains. And certainly not in the city!

– Alan, July 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Low Bow over Canola


Low Rainbow over Canola Field

A horizon-hugging rainbow shines over a blooming field of canola.

You don’t often see a rainbow like this. Just the top of the bow pokes above the horizon and a field of yellow canola.

The reason is the Sun’s altitude. When I shot this in late afternoon yesterday, July 4, the Sun was 40 degrees up in the northwest. That means the point opposite the Sun was 40 degrees below the horizon in the southeast. Rainbows are centred on this anti-solar point and are always 42 degrees in radius. So doing the math shows that only the top 2 degrees of the rainbow arc could be visible above the horizon, creating a rainbow chord. 

Double Rainbow over Canola Field

Later in the evening as another storm receded, a more classic bow appeared, this time as a double rainbow. With the Sun now much lower the anti-solar point was higher and more of the semi-circular bow appeared in the sky. I wish I could have shot a time-lapse of “rainbow rise” but downpours of rain prevented me from leaving the camera out.

These are neat examples of the play of light and colour in the open air. For lots more information, check out the wonderful Atmospheric Optics website.

– Alan, July 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Aurora over a Prairie Lake


Aurora over Crawling Lake (June 30, 2013)

A brief display of Northern Lights shines over a prairie lake.

Last night I went out to a nearby lake (there aren’t many in southern Alberta!) to shoot the twilight over water, and hoping to catch some aurora or noctilucent clouds as well.

There was lots of twilight but very little sign of aurora or NLCs. But at about 1 am the aurora kicked up briefly, enough to make a good photo but certainly nothing to get excited about for its visual appearance. It was just visible.

Shooting at Crawling Lake, June 30, 2013

However, it was a fine evening of shooting at a quiet prairie lake. Crawling Lake is one of several reservoirs in the area that are part of the extensive irrigation system in southern Alberta. Despite the recent floods, this area is usually dry and drought-sticken.

Capella in Twilight (June 30, 2013)

This shot, which I took early in the evening, shows the lone star of Capella, shining in the twilight of a solstice summer sky. From my latitude of 51° N, Capella, normally considered a winter star, is circumpolar. It never sets and so can be seen skimming along the northern horizon on short summer nights.

Star in Twilight over Crawling Lake (June 30, 2013)

An ultra-wide view shows the perpetual twilight of summer to the north, with the circumpolar  stars of summer above. A campfire from some late-arriving campers is on the shore at right.

Happy Canada Day!

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

 

Night of the Noctilucent Clouds


Star Trails and Noctilucent Clouds (Lighten Stack)

It was a beautiful summer evening, with stars wheeling overhead in a moonlit sky and the only clouds far away and interesting.

This was one of those nights we get once or twice a summer when the much-anticipated noctilucent clouds – the clouds of summer – put on a perfect show. In my previous post I featured an image from early in the night, last night, June 26, 2013.

These are images and time-lapse movies from later in the night. The composite image above shows stars trailing over 90 minutes with the brilliant noctilucent clouds on the horizon, and fringed by a rosy glow of red twilight where the southern edge of the cloud display, which sits over the Northwest Territories, is being lit by a setting Sun with red sunlight filtering through our atmosphere as it passes over the North Pole.