Mosaic of the Autumn Constellations


Mosaic of the Northern Autumn Constellations

I present a horizon-to-zenith panorama of the pantheon of autumn constellations.

Yes, I know it’s winter, but as it gets dark each night now in early January the autumn stars are still front and centre. I took the opportunity during a run of very clear nights at home to shoot a panorama of the autumn sky.

It is a mosaic that sweeps up the sky and frames many related Greek mythological constellations:

• from the watery constellations of Aquarius, Pisces, and Cetus at the bottom near the horizon…

• to Pegasus and Aries in mid-frame…

• on up to Andromeda and Perseus at upper left…

• and finally Cassiopeia and Cepheus at the top of frame embedded in the Milky Way overhead. The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, is just above centre.

Mosaic of the Northern Autumn Constellations (with Labels)

Here, I’ve labeled the participating constellations, though only a few, such as the “square” of Pegasus and the “W” of Cassiopeia, have readily identifiable patterns.

Most of these constellations are related in Greek mythology, with Princess Andromeda being the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus, who was rescued from the jaws of Cetus the Sea Monster by Perseus the Hero, who rode on Pegasus the Winged Horse in some accounts.

Zodiacal Light brightens the sky at bottom right in Aquarius, and angles across the frame to the left.


 

TECHNICAL:

I shot this from home on a very clear night January 2, 2016 with the Zodiacal Light plainly visible to the naked eye.

This is a mosaic of 5 panels, each a stack of 5 x 2 minute exposures, plus each panel having another stack of 2 x 2 minute exposures blended in, and taken through the Kenko Softon filter to add the fuzzy star glows to make the constellations stand out.

All were shot with the 24mm Canon lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5DMkII at ISO 1600. All tracked on the AP Mach One mount.

All stacking and stitching in Photoshop CC 2015. Final image size is 8500 x 5500 pixels and 3.6 gigabytes for the layered master.

– Alan, January 3, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Comet Lovejoy in Andromeda


Comet Lovejoy in Andromeda

Comet Lovejoy appears in Andromeda as the comet fades into the distance. 

This was the view Monday night, February 9, with Comet Lovejoy now moving slowly north through Andromeda. From a dark site it is now still visible to the unaided. In binoculars a short tail was just barely visible. But even in photos the comet has lost most of its long blue tail it sported last month.

The view above takes in the W of Cassiopeia at top, and some of the stars of Andromeda at bottom. The Andromeda Galaxy is at right. I’ve arrowed the comet, a fuzzy star green star.

Zodiacal Light & Milky Way

Shortly after I shot Lovejoy’s portrait I shot this image of the evening Zodiacal Light, the tower of light at left. At right is the setting autumn Milky Way. At the base of the Zodiacal Light is bright Venus just setting, with fainter Mars above it.

The next two weeks are ideal for sighting the Zodiacal Light. For more on what’s up in the sky now, see my previous blog.

Clear skies!

– Alan, February 9, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! – Comets, Planets, and Zodiacal Light, Oh My!


Feb Evening Sky

As the Moon departs the evening sky, we are left with a dark sky for viewing Comet Lovejoy, converging planets, and the elusive Zodiacal Light.

The western sky contains wonders this month.

Look into the evening twilight and you’ll see brilliant Venus appearing a little higher each night. As it climbs up, fainter Mars above is descending closer to the horizon. The two planets are converging toward a spectacular close conjunction with each other, and with the waxing crescent Moon, on February 20.

Meanwhile, Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) continues to perform well. It is now in the northwestern sky in the early evening, as it travels up through Andromeda into Cassiopeia.

While technically visible to the unaided eye, you really need binoculars or any telescope to see Comet Lovejoy well. Through optical aid it does show a faint tail. But it takes a long exposure photo to show it well.

Lovejoy in February

Here’s where to find Comet Lovejoy over the next couple of weeks, during the current dark-of-the-Moon period.

Look for a fuzzy star in Andromeda. It’s not passing very near any notable deep-sky objects, but its position will still make for a nice wide-angle photo with the comet embedded in this photogenic region of the northern autumn sky.

Comet Lovejoy & Zodiacal Light (Jan 16, 2015)

The other sight to look for each evening for the next two weeks is the Zodiacal Light. My photo shows it from last month, when Comet Lovejoy was crossing the ecliptic.

Look for a pyramid of light stretching up from the sunset point to high in the west. It follows the ecliptic, the green line in the top star chart. It takes a dark sky to see it, and it helps to be at a southerly latitude. But I’ve seen and shot the Zodiacal Light nicely in February from home in Alberta at 51° latitude.

The Zodiacal Light is caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary dust in the inner solar system. To see it, wait for most of the evening twilight to fade away. The glow that’s left brightening the western sky is the Zodiacal Light.

There’s lots to see just in the western evening sky during the next two weeks. Clear skies!

– Alan, February 9, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Andromeda over Mt. Andromeda


Andromeda over Mt. Andromeda #2

The stars of Andromeda and the autumn sky shine over Mount Andromeda.

This is a photo I’ve been after for several years, one practical to take only in early autumn. Last Sunday night, the skies were ideal.

This is the constellation of Andromeda over its namesake peak, Mt. Andromeda, at right.

The mountain was named in the 1930s by pioneering mountaineer Rex Gibson for the mythological princess. Andromeda is represented in the sky by an arc of stars, here at top centre, stretching from the Square of Pegasus, at right of centre, to Perseus, at left. Just above the main stars of Andromeda lies the oval glow of the Andromeda Galaxy.

The bright object at lower left is the overexposed waning quarter Moon rising in the southeast. Above it are the Pleiades rising.

I shot this from the Forefield Trail just up from the parking lot for the Toe of the Glacier walk to Athabasca Glacier, just off frame to the right. The hills in the foreground are the lateral moraines from the rapidly retreating glacier.

P.S. This my 500th blog post, a major milestone I would think! Thanks for being a fan and reading along. I hope you are enjoying my tours of what is truly an amazing sky.

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

The Princess Stars


Andromeda (50mm 5DII)

The stars of Andromeda the Princess highlight the autumn sky.

Here’s an image from last night, October 4, that frames all of the constellation of Andromeda, now high in the northern autumn sky. A trio of coloured stars arcs across the centre of the image, forming the main pattern in Andromeda. In Greek legend she was the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia and was rescued by Perseus from the devouring jaws of Cetus the Sea Monster.

Above the centre star lies the constellation’s most famous feature, the Andromeda Galaxy, shining at us from 2.5 million light years away. It is the most distant object easily visible to the unaided eye.

An equal distance below the centre star of Andromeda you can see another smaller fuzzy spot. That’s the Pinwheel or Triangulum Galaxy, a dwarf spiral 2.8 million light years away, but also a member of the Local Group of galaxies that contains our Milky Way and Andromeda as its two main members.

At left, just below centre, is a large open cluster of stars, NGC 752, easily visible to the naked eye.

For this shot, as I do for most constellation portraits, I used Photoshop to layer in a shot taken through a diffusion filter (the Kenko Softon A) on top of a stack of shots taken without the filter. This allows me to add the enhanced glows around stars to bring out their colours, and to do so in a controlled fashion by varying the opacity of the filtered view. Shooting on a night with high haze or cirrus clouds has the same end effect but that’s hardly a reliable way to take constellation images. Combining filtered and unfiltered views works great, and gives the “look” made popular years ago by Japanese astrophotographer Akira Fuji.

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

 

Thunderstorm in the Moonlight


Thunderstorm in Moonlight (June 25, 2013)

A thunderstorm rolls across the northern horizon with the stars of Cassiopeia and Andromeda rising.

This was a perfect night for storm shooting. The storm was far enough away to not engulf me in rain and wind, but close enough to show detail and reveal its bolts of lightning. A waning gibbous Moon shone in the south lighting up the storm clouds to the north and turning the sky blue.

Meanwhile the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda were rising behind the storm clouds, a nice contrast of Earth and sky.

I’ve been after a confluence of circumstances like this for a few years. An aurora to the northeast would have been nice as well. But you can’t have everything!

– Alan, June 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Conjunction of Comet and Galaxy


Comet PANSTARRS & M31 (March 31, 2013)

Tonight, April 1, we enjoyed the rare conjunction of a comet with a galaxy.

This is Comet PANSTARRS below the Andromeda Galaxy, a.k.a. M31. The two objects were less than a binocular field apart – 4 degrees – on the sky. But in real space they were separated by millions of light years. The comet was 192 million kilometres from Earth tonight and receding. But that’s a stone’s throw compared to the 2.5 million light year distance of the Andromeda Galaxy. Light was taking a mere 10 minutes to get to us from the comet, but the light from Andromeda was 2.5 million years old.

And yet, the two objects looked similar in brightness and shape to the binocular-aided eye.

I caught the two just above the horizon as they were dipping into haze and trees. The circumstances didn’t make for a technically great photo but with PANSTARRS we’ve all had to shoot despite the conditions and hope for the best.

With worsening weather prospects for the next week I suspect this will be my last look at PANSTARRS for a while.

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

 

 

PANSTARRS Rises into Darkness


Comet PANSTARRS (March 28, 2013)

At last. A view of Comet PANSTARRS in a dark and moonless sky. 

Nearly three weeks after first sighting it, I was able to finally look at and shoot the comet in a fairly dark sky, though with it still embedded in deep twilight. But at least the Moon was out of the way and the sky was dark enough to allow the comet to show off its broad fan-shaped dust tail, set against the stars of Andromeda.

The comet will climb a little higher during the next two moonless weeks as it passes the Andromeda Galaxy on April 2 and 3. However, it’s still very low in the northwest and needs binoculars to sight. You have to wait until the sky is dark to spot it. And hope for no clouds low in the northwest. The comet just dodged some here.

I shot this with a 200mm telephoto for a stack of eight 30-second exposures tracking the stars. The star at left is Delta Andromedae while the one above the comet is Pi Andromedae.

– Alan, March 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

City of Stars


Some 3 billion years from now we are going to collide with this galaxy.

This is the famous Andromeda Galaxy, now 2.5 million light years from us but getting closer by the day! Andromeda, a.k.a. Messier 31, is the most distant object readily visible to the naked eye. It now shines high overhead for us in the northern hemisphere.

I asked Siri, my iPad assistant, how many stars are in the Andromeda Galaxy, and she said one trillion. She’s right. Recent estimates put Andromeda’s stellar population at 3 or 4 times that of our own Milky Way Galaxy. It’s also bigger. Measuring from the outermost extremities of the disk gives a diameter of over 200,000 light years, twice the size of our home galaxy.

I took this shot last week. It’s stack of five 15-minute exposures with a new Lunt 80mm refractor. The long exposures bring out the faint halo of stars extending beyond the main bright disk, the part you see in a telescope. You can also see Andromeda’s two close companion galaxies: M32, looking like a fuzzy star below the core; and M110, the elliptical galaxy above the core and connected to the main galaxy by a bridge of faint stars.

– Alan, September 27, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Star Gazing


Happiness is a big telescope under a dark sky.

This is Regina astronomer Vance Petriew, gazing skyward at the Milky Way in Cassiopeia. Vance is the discoverer of Comet 185/P, aka Comet Petriew. This year, his comet returned to the August sky as a faint glow in Gemini, close to where it was when Vance found it exactly 11 years to the day before this image was taken, and at the very same spot in the campsite at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in Saskatchewan.

We all revelled in the Saskatchewan comet’s return, staying up till 4 am to see it through Vance’s 20-inch telescope, a reflector made by the small company called Obsession. (When you have an Obsession, you are a serious observer!) Enjoying the view early that morning before dawn were  Vance’s three daughters, only one of whom was around 11 years ago and then as a baby. But this year even the four-year-old was able to see Dad’s comet up close.

At the afternoon talks Vance recounted the story of how the comet’s discovery changed his life, and led to immense changes at the Park. As a result of the media and political attention the comet brought, the Park has become a Dark Sky Preserve, one of the first in Canada, leading a nationwide movement, while astronomy programming is now an integral part of the Park’s interpretive programs, as it is becoming at other provincial and national parks. There is now a permanent public observatory and lecture hall nearby in Cypress Hills, just a short walk away from where the comet was found.

Comets can have quite an impact!

— Alan, August 24, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Driving to Andromeda


Are we there yet? It would take a long time to get to the end of this road.

A road in Banff appears as if it is heading toward the autumn constellations rising over the peaks of the Fairholme range in the Canadian Rockies. The stars of Andromeda (centre), Pegasus (right), Perseus (left), and Cassiopeia (above left) make up the panorama of mythological heroes populating the northern autumn sky. In the sky above the road the small smudge of the Andromeda Galaxy is visible, shining from 2.5 million light years away. A faint aurora at left adds to the moonlit scene.

I shot this Sunday, July 29, moments after taking the image in the previous blog, which was looking the other way, north toward Cascade Mountain, from the meadows north of Banff. This was a very photogenic spot.

— Alan, August 4, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Legends of the Fall


These stars are as much a part of autumn in the northern hemisphere as are the changing colours of leaves and the flying south of geese.

These are the stars of legend, outlining the mythical constellations of Queen Cassiopeia (at top left), her daughter Andromeda (arcing across the bottom half of the image), and the hero Perseus (the stars at lower left) who rescued Andromeda from the ravages of Cetus the sea monster.

These stars are now high in the east in the evening sky, heralding the start of autumn and the return of frosty nights.

There are lots to see with binoculars or a telescope in these constellations. Look around this image and you can pick out several clumps, or clusters, of stars in Perseus and Andromeda. But the most obvious object is the oval-shaped Andromeda Galaxy, visible to the unaided eye from dark rural skies. This is the nearest sizeable galaxy to our Milky Way, and yet its light still takes 2.5 million years to reach us.

I took this shot earlier this week during a run of clear and warm autumn nights, perhaps the last before the chill nights of fall come on. It’s a wide-angle shot with a 35mm lens and Canon 5D MkII camera, tracked for a stack of four 6-minute exposures plus a fifth taken with a soft-focus filter.

— Alan, October 1, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer