The Great Lone Land


This is one of the great places for evoking the wide open spaces of the high plains. Here we are looking south over the Milk River and the rock formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta to the peaks of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. The buildings at right are the modern reconstructions of the late 1800’s North West Mounted Police outpost that guarded Canada from the illegals from the U.S. (!) coming up Police Coulee smuggling whiskey from Montana into Canada.

The time is just after sunset, as the last light of the Sun still illuminates the clouds. This is the magic hour for photography, and for taking in the solitude of the “Great Lone Land” as author William Francis Butler described it in his book of that title in 1872.

As Butler wrote, “No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie…”

— Alan, July 27, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Arctic Ice-Blue Clouds at Dawn


We were treated to a good display of noctilucent clouds last night. Or should I say early this morning! At this time of year, many a night is spent keeping a watchful vigil for noctilucent clouds. They often appear at their best before dawn.

That was the case July 5/6. The night started with a decent display of these northern sky clouds in the northwest after sunset and just before midnight. But then as the Sun dropped lower below the horizon, the lighting angles changed and the clouds disappeared. A low aurora display took their place through most of the night.

Then, at 3 am or so, as the lighting from the rising Sun hit the right angle coming over the Pole, the Arctic ice clouds reappeared, now in the northeast. Sequences of shots showed a rapid east to west motion of the clouds, driven by winds at the edge of space, at the clouds’ extreme altitude of 80 km or so.

This shot is with a 16-35mm zoom, set to 24mm and takes in the bright star Capella at upper right, a useful “survey marker” for measuring angles and cloud altitudes. I took this at about 3:30 am. MDT.

— Alan, July 6, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

The Glowing Clouds of Solstice Appear


The glowing clouds of solstice have appeared. This was my first sighting of “noctilucent clouds” for the season.

Every northern summer in late June and early July we are often treated to bright pearly clouds glowing along the northern horizon long after sunset. Their origin remains somewhat of a mystery. These clouds form almost at the edge of space, so high there shouldn’t be much for clouds to form around. But their height is what makes them visible, as they catch sunlight streaming over the pole even in the middle of the night.

I took this shot Tuesday, June 28 just before midnight. The noctilucent clouds are the blue-white wavy bands just above the orange twilight. In front of them lie dark normal clouds low in our troposphere. But the NLCs shine from an altitude of some 80 km, well into the mesosphere. They are located over the Northwest Territories but, like aurora, their height allows us to see them even from more southerly latitudes.

The bright star Capella, circumpolar from my latitude of 51° North, shines through the clouds at right.

— Alan, June 28, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Summer Solstice Space Station, Part 2


Here’s a capture of the Space Station, coming over in a darker, clearer sky than last night’s shot (in the previous blog). This was June 22, 2011, a fine solstice night on the Canadian Prairies.

The time was just before midnight, with no Moon. Yet the sky is blue and the northern horizon tinged with the orange glow of twilight. It never gets truly dark now, as summer begins. To the right, on the northeast horizon, a low green aurora kicks up.

The Space Station, the dashed arc at top, tonight passed from west to southeast, across the southern sky at the top of this fisheye 360° frame.

This is a stack of 28 18-second exposures at f/4 and ISO 1600 with the Canon 5D MkII and Sigma 8mm lens.

— Alan, June 22, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

 

Belt of Venus and Volcanoes


This was the scene we were treated to each evening at the Atacama Lodge in Chile. Quite an amazing skyline, with 5,900-metre-high Licancabur Volcano, here at sunset.

The sky colour comes from a phenomenon known as the Belt of Venus, a magenta/pinkish glow from sunlight lighting up the upper atmosphere after the Sun has set for us on the ground. The dark blue rimming the horizon is the rising shadow of the Earth.

I have punched up the colour saturation here to bring out the colours, but not so much as to be faked — the colours are real!

This is a shot with the 50mm lens and Canon 7D camera, taken on one of the nights we had dinner back at the lodge, in this case with a group of Québec amateur astronomers also here this week who were great observing friends on the field.

– Alan, May 7, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

After the Blizzard


We’ve certainly had our share (more than our share!) of snowstorms and blizzards so far this winter, though nothing like people down east have experienced. The one saving grace is that after the storm the sky often clears beautifully. In this case, on January 30, 2011 we had very clear blue skies, but filled with ice crystals of just the right shape (hexagonal) and orientation to produce a classic solar halo, with prominent sundogs on the 22° halo and a hint of an upper tangent arc, or is it an upper Parry arc? A trace of a circumhorizontal arc is also visible parallel to the horizon. Solar haloes are fascinating and often unique — each one can display a slightly different set of halo phenomena.

The website Atmospheric Optics gives great information and reference works.

– Alan, January 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer