Milky Way and the Northern Lights


Aurora and the Milky Way (May 6, 2013)

The Milky Way appears from behind the colourful curtains of the Northern Lights.

This was the scene last Saturday night, into the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, May 5, as the summer Milky Way rose in the east while a display of aurora  played across the northern sky. The Northern Lights weren’t particularly bright this night, but the long 2-minute exposure I used to bring out the Milly Way recorded the aurora with colours and an intensity only the camera could see this night.

The green is from oxygen glowing in the lower part of the atmosphere, though still some 80 km up, where only rockets and high-altitude balloons can fly. The tops of the auroral curtains are tinged with the pinks from another type of oxygen emission possible only at the very top of our atmosphere, where molecules are few and far between and what’s left of the air that surrounds us meets the vacuum of space some 150 km up.

From Earth it’s hard to visualize just what we are seeing when we look at display like this. But check out some of the Aurora videos at  NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. You’ll see time-lapse videos taken from the Space Station as it flies by and through the same types of aurorae with green lower bands and pink upper fringes, beautifully captured  floating high above the Earth in vertical curtains reaching up into the blackness of space.

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

 

VLA Dishes at Sunset


VLA at Sunset with Crepuscular Rays

The photogenic dishes of the Very Large Array aim skywards as the setting Sun casts shadows across the sky.

If these were optical telescopes I could write that the telescopes were getting ready for a night of sky viewing. But radio telescopes can observe day and night.

Still, there is something magical about catching any type of telescope in action as the Sun sets and night falls. Here, the last beams of sunlight coming from the west illuminate the dishes, while dark shadows – crepuscular rays – cast by clouds converge toward the anti-Sun point in the east.

As part of my trek around New Mexico this past week, I shot this on Sunday, March 17, about an hour before I took the image of Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA dishes – for that image I was east of the array looking back to the west and to the comet.

But for this image I was at one of the public access areas, standing under one of the dishes, looking east.

At first, all the dishes were aimed up to the zenith, stowed I assume due to the high winds that were blowing all afternoon. But then, right on cue as I began shooting, all the dishes began to move in unison. The dishes first aimed toward me, then turned to aim up to the south, as here. It was an amazing dance to watch. It gave me goosebumps. And tears.

There is likely no more iconic image of our exploration of the universe from Earth than this array of antennas listening for the faintest signals from deep space – not alien radio programs, but the natural signals emitted by atoms and molecules where stars are forming and dying.

– Alan, March 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Whitsunday Sunset


Whitsunday Sunset #1

This was a perfect sunset for displaying the subtle shades of twilight.

On this evening the sky over the ocean showed off the classic sunset gradient from deep orange though yellow, purple and into deep twilight blue. I shot this on the water on my cruise around the Whitsunday Islands on board the Solway Lass. Note the dark reflections of clouds in the water.

We’re looking west, of course – the Sun still sets in the west in the southern hemisphere! – which is back toward the mainland of Queensland, Australia.

– Alan, December 3, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Island Moon At Sunset


Moon Over Baur Bay, Whitsundays

One of the great joys of sailing and being out on the water is the wonderful sunsets. In this case, sunset included a fine moonrise.

This is the gibbous Moon of November 26 in the evening sky over the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. On this evening we were moored in Baur Bay, at South Molle Island. The bright waxing Moon shines amid the red clouds in the east still lit by the last rays of the setting Sun from the west. It is everyday scenes like this, painted with the wonderful palette of colours only the sky can provide, that you begin to appreciate all the more – or more to the point, simply see – as you become “sky aware.” So no great science lessons to learn here – just some beautiful colours to soothe the soul as gentle waves lap against the side of the ship.

– Alan, December 2, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Tropical Twilight


Oh, to be on the beach in the tropics now that winter’s here at home.

That’s where I was tonight, at the same beach on Magnetic Island, Queensland where I shot last night’s images of cloud shadows. You can see some of the same effect here, as the few darker clouds cast their dark shadows across the twilight. But in the clearer sky tonight, the classic colours of twilight are more pronounced than they were the previous night. The sunset sky goes from deep yellow near the horizon, through pinkish-purple and into deep blue high in the sky. The “twilight purple” is caused by red sunlight still illuminating the high atmosphere.

We see the same colour effects at temperate latitudes. It’s just a lot more pleasant enjoying a sunset on a warm beach in winter.

– Alan, November 22, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Cloud Shadows on the Beach


I went to the beach to shoot the sunset and saw one of the best examples of cloud shadows I’d ever seen.

These are called “crepuscular rays,” and are shadows cast across the atmosphere by clouds, in this case in the west blocking the light of the setting Sun. However, here I’m shooting east in the direction opposite the sunset, to see the shadows converging on the anti-Sun point.

The effect is really stunning, yet I doubt anyone on the beach paid much attention to it. But then again, that’s the whole point of my AmazingSky blog — to call attention to neat stuff you can see in the sky if you only look up.

The site is Horseshoe Bay on the north end of Magnetic Island, off the coast of Queensland, near Townsville. I’m here for two days enjoying the island life. It has now been one week since the total eclipse of the Sun. Hard to imagine!

– Alan, November 22, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Halo over the Harbour


Here’s my first astrophoto from the land down under in 2012.

I’m in Australia for the solar eclipse, now two weeks away. With luck we will see the Sun disappear in a spectacular early morning event. But for now, here’s the Sun creating a solar halo shining in the sky over the icon of Australia, the Sydney Opera House.

After a couple of days in Sydney I head up the coast, collect and check out my telescope gear in storage for the last couple of years, and then begin the long drive up to northern Queensland and the rendezvous with friends … and the Moon’s shadow.

– Alan, October 31, 2012 (Australian date) / © 2012 Alan Dyer