Big Dipper Over the Badlands


The Big Dipper swings low over the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, with an aurora added for good measure.

This another shot from my very productive night last Sunday out at Dinosaur Park, 100 km east of me. Here the curtains of aurora that made the news that evening shimmer below the iconic seven stars of the Big Dipper, now low in the northern sky on autumn evenings.

Light from the Full Moon provides the illumination. People wonder how we astrophotographers can take pictures of the stars in the daytime. We don’t. We take them at night, letting the Moon light the scene. Its light is just reflected sunlight, so a long enough exposure (and in this case it was only 8 seconds) records the landscape looking as if it were daytime, complete with blue sky, but with stars – and this night an aurora – in the sky.

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

 

A Ball of Fire Descending


Smoke reddened the Sun and turned it into a ball of fire setting into the west.

This was Monday night, September 24, looking toward the hills in the west end of Calgary. I positioned myself on the north side of the Bow River across from the downtown core, at the top of the river valley to catch the Sun in this telephoto shot. The other camera was taking a time-lapse sequence in a wider scene with the Bow River in view.

We are certainly having some fine sunsets of late, thanks to forest fire smoke.

– Alan, September 24, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Right Angle Moon


Saturday night was a fine evening for witnessing the geometry of the night sky.

This is sunset on the evening of the autumnal equinox, September 22, 2012, with a first quarter Moon in the sky. The image illustrates the geometry of the quarter Moon’s position, which is always 90° away from the Sun, a quarter of the way around its orbit in its monthly cycle.

In this case, because the Sun (at right) was on the equinox position on the ecliptic, it was setting due west this night (something it does only on the dates of the fall or spring equinox). This put the quarter Moon (at left) 90° away, due south at sunset.

Draw a line from the Moon to your eye (the camera) and then back out to the Sun and it forms a 90° right angle. This geometry holds true for any quarter Moon, but being equinox the Sun and Moon were nicely aligned due west and south, making their right angle arrangement more obvious.

I took this shot from the grounds of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory on the occasion of their monthly Open House.

– Alan, September 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Star Party Sunset in the Badlands


A hundred or so stargazers were treated to a beautiful sunset in the badlands of the Red Deer River valley on Saturday night.

This was the setting for the annual Alberta Star Party, at a campground north of Drumheller, Alberta, amid the late Cretaceous sediments of the badlands. This is big sky country.

Earlier in the week the night sky was clear and inviting. But this night the clouds served only to provide a fine sunset. They failed to disappear after nightfall. However, on a such a night, a good time is still had by all as everyone enjoys the company of fellow stargazers during the last of the fine weather before star party season ends for another year.

I took this 360° panorama with a handheld camera, and stitched the segments in Adobe Photoshop CS6.

– Alan, September 16, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Blue Moonrise


This was the Full Moon rising on the night of another much-publicized “Blue Moon.” This was moonrise on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Of course, the Moon doesn’t look blue. Indeed, smoke and dust in the air made it look a dim yellow. Though this wasn’t the official Harvest Moon (that comes next month), it should have been, as around here in southern Alberta the harvest is well underway, thus the swathed fields and hay bales.

The Full Moon sits in the blue band of Earth’s shadow, rimmed on the top by the pink twilight effect called the Belt of Venus, caused by sunlight illuminating the high atmosphere to the east.

A couple of windmills from the large Wintering Hills wind farm add to the evening scene. I’ve spent the last couple of evenings shooting in the wind farm. More images are to come!

For this image, I combined six exposures in a High Dynamic Range stack to compress the wide range of brightnesses. Boosting the colour vibrancy also brings out the twilight colours.

– Alan, August 31, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Star Party Panorama


This image depicts a 360° panorama of the field and sky at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party.

This was my first time shooting a nighttime panorama but it was easy. Just 12 exposures taken at 30° intervals panning around on a levelled tripod, in classic planetarium panorama style. Each exposure was 30 seconds at f/2 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 5D MkII and 24mm lens. It helps to have a high-quality fast lens.

North is at centre, south on either end.

The sky contains some interesting and subtle features that show up well in a wide-angle panorama like this:

– The bright summer Milky Way is setting at left in the southwest while the fainter winter half of the Milky Way is rising opposite, at right in the northeast.

– Jupiter and the Pleiades rise at right just off the Milky Way

– A meteor streaks over the trees at centre

– At centre, to the north, glows a faint yellow and magenta aurora

– The larger green glow left of centre is, I suspect, airglow rather than aurora. It has a striated structure, particularly at right of centre above the trees where it appears as subtle green and red bands arching across the northeast.

The sky this night was dark but did have a brighter than usual background, likely due to the presence of this faint airglow that the camera picks up better than the eye.

Even so, I can see another faint glow:

– A whitish band coming up from the northeast passing through Jupiter and below the Pleaides. That’s the Zodiacal Band, an extension of the brighter Zodiacal Light and caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary dust in the ecliptic plane.

The location of the panorama and star party was the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in southwest Saskatchewan, one of the darkest places in southern Canada.

— Alan, August 20, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Athabasca Moon


I’ve spent the last couple of night in Jasper National Park, home to the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, dedicated to maintaining the darkness of the natural night sky.

This is a scene from Friday night, taken well before darkness, as the waxing Moon shone in the twilight above the Athabasca River and the peaks of the continental divide. For many years in the early 19th century fur traders plied these waters. Now rafters do.

Jasper is far enough north of me that I don’t get there very often. I’ve been spending most of my mountain time in Banff. I realize it’s been a decade or more since I’ve driven all the way up the Icefields Parkway to visit Jasper. But I was happy to be back. It has some great sites for nightscape photography.

I got two clear nights this past weekend, so a few more shots will hit the blog in the next few days.

— Alan, July 29, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer