Banff by Night


Milky Way Reflections at Bow Lake

Three perfect nights in July provided opportunities to capture the night sky at popular sites in Banff National Park.

When the weather forecast in mid-July looked so promising I made an impromptu trip to Banff to shoot nightscapes and time-lapses under unusually clear skies. Clouds are often the norm in the mountains or, increasingly these days, forest fire smoke in late summer.

But from July 15 to 17 the skies could not have been clearer, except for the clouds that rolled in late on my last night, when I was happy to pack up and get some sleep.

Conjunction over the Continental Divide with Train

My first priority was to shoot the marvellous close conjunction of the Moon and Venus on July 15. I did so from the Storm Mountain viewpoint on the Bow Valley Parkway, with a cooperative train also coming through the scene at the right time.

The Milky Way and Mars over Storm Mountain

This was the view later with the Milky Way and Mars over Bow Valley and Storm Mountain.

Bow Lake by Night Panorama

The next night, July 16, was one of the most perfect I had ever seen in the Rockies. Crystal clear skies, calm winds, and great lake reflections made for a picture-perfect night at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. Above is a 360° panorama shot toward the end of the night when the galactic centre of the Milky Way was over Bow Glacier.

Streaks of green airglow arc across the south, while to the north the sky is purple from a faint display of aurora.

Earlier that night the usual auroral arc known as Steve put in an unexpected appearance. It was just a grey band to the eye, but the camera picked up Steve’s usual pink colours. Another photographer from the U.S. who showed up had no idea there was an aurora happening until I pointed it out.

Mars and the Milky Way at Herbert Lake

My last night was at Herbert Lake, a small pond great for capturing reflections of the mountains around Lake Louise, and the Milky Way. Here, brilliant Mars, so photogenic this summer, also reflects in the still waters.

At each site I shot time-lapses, and used those frames to have some fun with star trail stacking, showing the stars turning from east to west and reflected in the lake waters, and with a single still image taken at the end of the sequence layered in to show the untrailed sky and Milky Way.

But I also turned those frames into time-lapse movies, and incorporated them into a new music video, along with some favourite older clips reprocessed for this new video.

Banff by Night (4K) from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

Enjoy! And do enlarge to full screen. The video is also in 4K resolution.

Clear skies!

— Alan, August 2, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

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 

 

Lilac Passages of the ISS


ISS Title Page

I present a short video, in 4K, of two video clips of the International Space Station in two successive passages across the sky on May 24/25, 2018.

The location was my backyard in southern Alberta.

The clips were shot in 4K in real-time video at 24 frames per second but with a 1/4-second shutter speed with a Sony a7III camera, and with 15mm full-frame fish-eye (first clip) and 8mm circular fish-eye lenses. ISO speeds were 6400 and 16,000.

The clips are sped up by 2x and 4X in post-production to make a shorter video for the web. The background sounds of the night are real-time and were recorded live with the videos.

What I cannot capture is the smell!

The lilacs were in bloom and lent a wonderful fragrant scent to the night air, which added to the sights and sounds of a spring night.

Thus the title of the video.

Much of North America is now enjoying great passes of the ISS. To find out when you can see it from your backyard see NASA’s Spot the Station website and enter your location.

– Alan, May 26, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

The Rise and Set of the Easter Full Moon


Rising Easter Full Moon (Composite)

A clear day on Easter Eve allowed me to photograph the setting Full Moon in the morning and the rising Full Moon in the evening.

This was another of the year’s special Full Moons, and this time for a valid historical reason.

This was the “paschal” Full Moon, the one used to determine the date of Easter. It was the first Full Moon after the vernal equinox. The first Sunday after that Full Moon is Easter. This year, the Moon was full about an hour before sunrise on the morning of Saturday, March 31. Easter was the next day, Sunday, April 1.

Below is the view of the Full Moon not long after it was officially Full, as it was setting into the west as the first rays of sunlight lit the foreground at dawn on March 31.

The Easter Full Moonset #1 (March 31, 2018)
The setting Full Moon on the morning of Saturday, March 31, 2018, the day before Easter. At this time, at about 7:20 a.m. MDT, the Moon was a little less than an hour after the moment of exact Full Moon, so the Sun had already risen before the Moon set. This was with the Canon 6D MkII and 200mm lens with 1.4x convertor, shot from home.

To be precise, the actual paschal Full Moon is a fictional or calculated Moon that occurs 14 days into the lunar cycle, and isn’t an observed Moon. But this year, we really did have a Full Moon just before Easter Sunday, and on the first day of Passover, from which we get the term “paschal.”

Later on March 31, after sunset, the Moon was now half a day past Full, causing it to rise a good half hour after sunset. However, the lighting and sky colour was still good enough to place a reddened Moon rising into a deep blue sky for a wonderful colour contrast.

This was also touted as a “blue Moon,” as it was the second Full Moon in March, and it was also the second blue Moon of 2018. (January had one, too.) But as you can see the Moon was hardly “blue!” It was a fine pink Moon.

Rising Easter Full Moon (Trail)
This is a stack of 424 exposueres, taken at 3-second intervals for a time-lapse, but here stacked with Lighten blend mode to create a moon trail streak. I used the Advanced Stacker Plus actions in Photoshop. The final Moon disk comes from the last image in the sequence, while the ground comes from the first image in the sequence. I shot this sequence from home, using a 200mm Canon lens and 1.4x convertor, on the Canon 6D MkII. Exposures ranged from 0.8 second to 1/15 second, all at ISO 100 and f/4.

The above image is a little fun with Photoshop, and stacks hundreds of images of the rising Moon to create a “Moon trail,” showing the change in colour of the Moon as it rose.

This short HD movie includes two versions of the full time-lapse sequence:

• One showing the Moon rising normally, though the sky and ground come from the first image in the sequence.

• The second is another bit of Photoshop fun, with the Moon leaving disks behind it as it rose.

For the technically minded, I created both movies using Photoshop’s video editing capabilities to layer in various still images on top of the base video file. The stills are layered with a Lighten blend mode to superimpose them onto the background sky and video.

Rising Moon Movie Composite Screenshot
A screen shot of the Photoshop layers used to create the Moon disk composite time-lapse.

While Easter is a spring holiday, it hardly seems spring here in Alberta. The coldest Easter weekend in decades and lots of snow on the ground made this a winter scene.

With luck, spring will arrive here well before the next Full Moon.

— Alan, April 3, 2018 / © 2918 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com 

 

The Northern Lights from Norway


All-Sky Aurora from Norway #1

The skies of Norway provided superb nights of Northern Lights as I sailed the coast.

As I did last autumn, I was able to join a cruise along the Norwegian coast, instructing an aurora tour group from Road Scholar. We were on one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships that ply the coast each day, the m/s Nordnorge, on a 12-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes at the top end of Norway, then back again to Bergen.

Purple Auroral Curtains in Twilight from Norway
Auroral curtains in twilight on March 14, 2018 from at sea north of Tromsø, Norway, on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, with the curtains showing a purple tinge at the tops, likely from scattered blue sunlight mixing with the red oxygen colours. The Big Dipper is at centre in a view looking north. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

In all, we had three very clear nights, with good auroras on two of those nights. Several other nights had bright auroras but seen through broken cloud.

Aurora Watchers on m/s Nordnorge #1
Aurora tourists taking in the sky show on March 14, 2018 from the aft deck of the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge on the journey south, from a location north of Tromsø this night. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

All observing and photography is done from the ship deck as we sailed among the fjords and sounds along the coast.

Purple Auroral Curtains from Norway
Auroral curtains in twilight on March 14, 2018 from at sea north of Tromsø, Norway, on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, with the curtains showing a purple tinge to the background sky, likely from scattered blue sunlight mixing with the red oxygen colours. The Big Dipper is at upper left; Orion is at far right; Leo is left of centre, in a view looking south. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

The best night was an all-sky display on March 14 seen from north of Tromsø as we sailed back south from our farthest north of 71° latitude.

All-Sky Aurora from Norway #3
A sky-covering aurora on March 14, 2018, as seen from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, as we sailed south toward Tromsø, Norway. The view is looking east. The curtains are converging to the zenith at top. This is a single 1.6-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

Earlier, on the trip north, we had a great night as the aurora danced over the Lofoten Islands and we entered the Trollfjord. There is no finer scenery on Earth for framing the Lights.

Entering Trollfjorden with Aurora
A scene from the Norwegian coast and the Loftoten Islands of the aurora over the entrance to the Trollfjorden fjord, from the forward deck of the Hurtigruten ferry ship the m/s Nordnorge. Cassiopeia and Perseus are at left. Vega (brightest) and Deneb are at lower right, high above the northern horizon from this latitude of 68° North. Taken March 10, 2018. I used the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200, for a 2-second exposure.

As is the custom, the captain enters the fjord by searchlight, a scene depicted below.

Entering Trollfjorden with Searchlights
A scene from the Norwegian coast and the Loftoten Islands of the aurora over the entrance to the Trollfjorden fjord, from the forward deck of the Hurtigruten ferry ship the m/s Nordnorge. The ship is using its searchlights to mark the entrance to the narrow fjord. Cassiopeia and Perseus are at left. Vega (brightest) and Deneb are at lower right, high above the northern horizon from this latitude of 68° North. Taken March 10, 2018. I used the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200, for a 2-second exposure.

I shot very few time-lapses on this trip (unlike my trip in October 2017, which you can see in a music video at a previous blog post).

However, here’s a short music video of two clips I did shoot, including a time-lapse of us approaching the Trollfjord entrance.

As we sailed south, we left the aurora behind. Our last look was of the arc of the auroral oval across the north, seen from south of Rorvik.

Panorama of the Auroral Oval from Norway
A 180° panorama of the sweep of the auroral oval, from due west, at left, to due east, at right, with due north near the image centre. Orion is just setting into the sea at far left. Cassiopeia is at centre. Deneb and Vega are the bright stars low in the sky and circumpolar shining just right of centre. I shot this on the evening of March 16, 2018 from at sea on the coast of Norway south of Rorvik, with the ship sailing south away from the aurora. This was from the aft deck of the m/s Nordnorge, one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships. The latitude was about 63° N. This is a panorama from 8 segments, stitched with PTGui, and shot with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8, for a series of 1-second exposures at ISO 6400 with the Nikon D750.

However, for several nights prior we had been under the auroral oval and the Lights had danced for us over the sky.

Norway is one of the world’s best sites for seeing the Northern Lights – the “nordlys” – and taking a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast is a great way to see the Lights and incredible scenery that changes by the minute.

— Alan, March 22, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Waterfalls of Light – The Aurora


Once again, the skies over Churchill, Manitoba delivered a wonderful show of Northern Lights during the 2018 aurora season.

As I do each year, in February I visited the Churchill Northern Studies Centre on the frozen shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada to help present aurora watching sessions to tourists from around the world.

I shot these images and the time-lapses for the music video during my two-week stay February 7 to 18.


The music video incorporates sequences shot on three nights: February 15, 16, and 18. Visit the video’s Vimeo page where the description below the video contains all the details and tech information. I won’t repeat that all here.

It is viewable in up to 6K resolution, almost IMAX™ grade!

The music is by the British composer and musician Alexis Ffrench, and is used by kind permission. Visit his website to hear and learn more.

This year, finding clear skies was not a problem. We had clouds on only 2 nights of the 11 I stayed in Churchill. However, temperatures were typically -35° C with a brisk wind at times. There were extreme cold warnings out which, for Churchill, means EXTREME COLD! But that gave us very clear skies.

Often, tour participants are just as excited about seeing the stars and Milky Way as they are about checking the Lights off their lifetime bucket list.

The other challenge was on a couple of nights there was no significant aurora which, for Churchill under the auroral oval, was unusual. On other nights the Lights didn’t appear until about 3 a.m.

But on some nights the aurora danced as expected in the evening or midnight sky, covering the sky in a jaw-dropping display, and sometimes with vivid pinks fringing the curtains.

Here are some of my favourite still images from my 2018 stay.

First, a panorama selfie!

Auroral Oval in Twilight Panorama
A 180° panorama of the auroral oval across the northern horizon in the twilight sky on February 18, 2018. The aurora was active right at the start of the evening this night, the final night of my stay in Churchill for 2018, here at the Northern Studies Centre. The panorama is from the upper floor deck. The aurora appeared so early we had not had a chance yet to turn off the building lights – programs were still happening inside. The temperature was -35° C. Up from low of -40 earlier in the day. The wind had also died down, mercifully! Orion is rising at right. This is a 9-segment panorama stitched with Adobe Camera Raw. The lens is the 14mm Sigma Art lens wide open at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200. Exposures were 4 seconds each. For the last one, with the self-timer I got into the last frame for a selfie.

 

All-Sky Aurora with Pink Curtains #2
A fish-eye lens view of an all-sky aurora on February 16, 2018, over the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in Churchill, Manitoba, and caught during a short-lived bright outburst when the bottom fringe of the auroral curtains turned brilliant pink for a minute or so, due to energetic electrons exciting lower altitude nitrogen molecules. This was with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and the Canon 6D MkII at ISO 3200. The sky is one exposure while the ground is a mean combined stack of 4 exposures to smooth noise. The exposures were part of a 925-frame time-lapse.

 

Selfie with Aurora at Churchill Northern Studies Centre (Feb 11,
A reasonably bright display of Northern Lights appears and performs for the first aurora group of the season at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba, on the night of February 11/12, 2018. The Kp Index was still low, only 0 to 1, and the Bz was often still North, but for some reason we got a decent display this night. Here, I pose for my own selfie, gazing at the Lights. This is a single shot with the Rokinon 12mm lens and Nikon D750.

 

Feathered-Edge All-Sky Aurora #4
An all-sky aurora display in the early morning hours (between 3 and 4 am) on February 10, 2018, shot from the upper deck of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba. The main arc had an ususual feathered lower edge with protruding patches. Visually, the aurora was dim and colourless. Kp Index was 1. This is looking east with Jupiter rising at centre. This is a single exposure with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens on the Nikon D750.

 

Dipper and Polaris in Aurora
The Big and Little Dippers, and Polaris over the boreal forest amid subtly coloured aurora at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Taken on Feb 11, 2018 on a night with a decent display of Northern Lights. Arcturus is at right. Cassiopeia is at left.

 

Orion and Auroral Swirl over CNSC
Orion and the winter sky, at left, and a swirl of colourful aurora over the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in a display on February 11, 2018. People from the first Learning Vacations group of the season are shooting the Lights. This is a single image with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens and Nikon D750.

 

Auroral Curtains in Twilight (Feb 18, 2018) #2
Curtains of aurora during an active storm on February 18, 2018 from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in the early evening in the last of the twilight. This night the aurora was brightest early in the evening. The Big Dipper is at left. This is a single frame from a 725-frame time-lapse with the Nikon D750 at ISO 3200 and Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8. Exposures were 2 seconds.

 

Snaking Auroral Serpent
An auroral curtain with dramatic snaking curls and twists like a serpent, as auroras were sometimes seen and depicted in medieval times. This is a frame from a time-lapse sequence taken February 16, 2018 from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba, using the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750.

 

Kp0 Aurora from Churchill
A Kp 0 (lowest level reading of the 0 to 9 Kp Index) aurora at 3:30 am on February 11, 2018, from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in Churchill, Manitoba. Earlier in the night there was no aurora visible at all, but by 3:30 there was a faint arc and patches, but very dim. The Bz Index had turned south, so the aurora picked up a little, but very litttle! The colours and contrast have been enhanced here. This is an example of the lowest level aurora from a site under the auroral zone. This is a stitch of 4 segments to make a small vertical panorama to take in the horizon and the Big Dipper at the zenith at top. Gemini and Auriga are at left; the star Vega is right of centre. Polaris is above centre. We are looking nearly due north. All frames with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens, for 25 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 3200. Stitched with PTGui.

Thanks for looking!

— Alan, February 25, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

The Beauty of the Milky Way


Beauty of Milky Way Title

I present a new 4-minute music video (in 4K resolution) featuring time-lapses of the Milky Way.

One of the most amazing sights is the Milky Way slowly moving across the sky. From Canada we see the brightest part of the Milky Way, its core region in Sagittarius and Scorpius moving across the souther horizon in summer.

But from the southern hemisphere, the galactic core rises dramatically and climbs directly overhead, providing a jaw-dropping view of our edge-on Galaxy stretching across the sky. It is a sight all stargazers should see.

I shot the time-lapses from Alberta, Canada and from Australia, mostly in 2016 and 2017.

I include a still-image mosaic of the Milky Way from Aquila to Crux shot in Chile in 2011.

Do watch in 4K if you can! And in Full-Screen mode.

Locations include Writing-on-Stone and Police Outpost Provincial Parks, and Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta.

In Australia I shot from the Victoria coast and from inland in New South Wales near Coonabarabran, with some scenes from the annual OzSky Star Safari held each April.

I used a SYRP Genie Mini and a Star Adventurer Mini for the panning sequences, and a TimeLapse+ View intervalometer for the day-to-night sequences.

I processed all sequences (some 7500 frames in total) through the software LRTimelapse to smooth transitions and flickering.

Music is by Audiomachine.

Enjoy!

— Alan, January 22, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com