Night of the Northern Lights


All-Sky Aurora #1 (June 28, 2013)

The Northern Lights danced all night, as Earth was buffeted by winds from the Sun.

As soon as I saw the warning notices at Spaceweather.com I was hoping we would be in for a wonderful night of aurora watching. I wasn’t disappointed.

Forewarned, I headed out to the Wintering Hills Wind Farm near my home in southern Alberta. I thought it would be neat to get shots of the effects of the solar wind from beneath and beside the wind turbines of the farm. The shot above is from a time-lapse movie taken with a fish-eye lens that will look great when projected in a full-dome digital planetarium.

Northern Lights over Wind Farm #3 (June 28, 2013)

I shot with three cameras, with two aimed east to where the brightest part of the auroral arc usually sits. It was also exactly where the Moon would rise after midnight. This shot, above, captures the scene right at moonrise, which was also right when the aurora kicked into high gear as a sub-storm of solar particles rained down on our upper atmosphere. The ground lit up green with the glow of oxygen in the mesosphere, some 100 kilometres up.

Moonrise and Northern Lights

This shot, taken moments later with a longer focal length lens, grabs the waning Moon shining behind the distant wind machines, and beneath the arc of auroral curtains.

In all, I shot 50 gigabytes of raw images, both still images and frames for time-lapse movies. I’ve assembled most of them into a musical collage that honours the night. In the final sequence of the movie, it almost looks like the wind machine is facing into the brunt of the solar wind, as pulses of aurora surge from out of the east toward the turbine towering overhead.

 

The music is by a new favourite artist of mine, the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. His latest album of alt-classical/new age music is called “In a Time Lapse.” How could you not like that?! Buy it on iTunes. It’s stunning.

I hope you got to see the Night of the Northern Lights in person. If not, I trust these images and movies give you a sense of the wonder of what the solar wind can do.

– Alan, June 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Summer Solstice Panorama on the Prairie


Summer Solstice Panorama

This is the prairie night sky taken at the moment of summer solstice.

I shot this 360° panorama in the field near my house just before midnight on June 20, 2013, right about the official time of summer solstice. This is the longest night of the year and the brightest. The presence of the gibbous Moon contributes most of the night light, but there to the north at left you can see the glow of twilight and an aurora. At right, the waxing Moon shines in clouds, surrounded by a faint halo from ice crystals in the clouds.

Nights around solstice are always bright and filled with wonderful colours and atmospheric phenomena.

The tranquility of the solstice scene is in contrast with the horrific weather disaster taking place west of me near the mountains, as record floods from torrential rains wash away roads, railway lines, and houses. Roads are closed in and out of the mountains and entire neighbourhoods of Calgary near rivers are being evacuated.

Everyone knows somebody who is affected. For many this is indeed a very long and stressful night. I hope everyone keeps safe.

– Alan, June 21, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Time-Lapse: Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds


Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds (135mm #1) (June 9, 2013)

What strange clouds these are, moving where there shouldn’t be winds, and forming where there’s barely any air.

These are noctilucent clouds, sometimes called polar mesospheric clouds. Their icy strands form around particles at the top of the atmosphere some 80 km up. There’s almost no air up there so just how these clouds form has always been a mystery. They may be condensing around meteoric dust particles. They may also be more common now than in past decades and centuries, as the upper atmosphere cools due to an odd quirk of global warming that sees the lower troposphere warm while the upper mesosphere cools.

This was the first display of NLCs I’ve seen so far this season. They can only be seen, and indeed they only form, in summer. Sunlight streams over the pole and lights these clouds all night long. They are literally “night-shining” clouds. Only from a latitude range of 45° to 60° north and around summer solstice is the geometry right to see the clouds, usually as electric blue cirrus strands moving slowly along the northern horizon.

The time-lapse movies capture their motion over 30 to 90 minutes of shooting.

 

The 40-second movie contains three clips:

• The first, a wide-angle  view of the amazing aurora that danced in fast accompaniment to the slow noctilucent clouds.

• The second clip, very short, zooms in a little more to the northern horizon. However, I cut that sequence short so I could switch lenses and take the next clip.

• The third scene is with a telephoto lens, framing the east-to-west slow motion of the clouds. I took 4-second exposures at 1-second intervals so it shows some pretty fine motion.

This was certainly one of the best NLC displays I’d seen and my best shot at capturing them.

What was especially rare was seeing them accompanied by auroral curtains actually moving among the clouds (or so it appeared). Both are up high in the near vacuum of near space, but they may have been miles apart in latitude.

– Alan, June 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Northern Lights & Noctilucent Clouds


Northern Lights and Noctilucent Clouds (june 9, 2013)

Colourful sky phenomena combine to provide a remarkable sky show.

What a night this was! On Sunday, June 9 the aurora kicked off with a burst in the bright twilight but really got going as the sky got dark, shooting beams of magenta and blue up from the main green arc.

Then on cue, streamers of noctilucent clouds appeared low in the north, shining with their characteristic electric blue. These are odd clouds at the edge of space lit by sunlight streaming over the Pole.

Both these apparitions of the upper atmosphere glowed above a horizon rimmed with the orange of perpetual twilight set in a deep blue background sky.

Yes, the camera has brought out the colours more intensely than the eye saw, but nevertheless it was a remarkable evening close to solstice. This is a magical time of year when all kinds of sky glows light the night.

This night the European Einstein ATV cargo craft also flew over, twice, each time about 10 minutes ahead of the even brighter Space Station that it is chasing for a docking later this week.

More images to come from this night, including time-lapses of the Lights and Clouds.

– Alan, June 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Aurora at the Observatory


Aurora over Calgary from RAO (May 25, 2013)

A low aurora appears in the city skyglow and bright moonlight at the local observatory. 

After several days of rain, skies cleared beautifully for a Saturday night star party for the public at the local university observatory, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, southwest of Calgary.

The evening was capped off by the appearance, as expected, of an auroral arc to the north. Despite the light from the nearly Full Moon and urban sky glow to the north, the aurora managed to compete and put on a show for a few minutes before fading.

RAO Open House (May 25, 2013) #10

RAO Open House (May 25, 2013) #13

About 100 people attended the evening, and were treated to views of Saturn, shining in the south near Spica. Unfortunately, clouds to the west over the mountains never cleared away enough to allow us views, and me photos, of the triple-planet conjunction of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. Still, a good time was had by all.

– Alan, May 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Aurora All-Night


Aurora with Blue Curtains #3 (May 17-18, 2013)

The Northern Lights dance through the night, ending with a finale burst of blue.

Here’s the time-lapse movie, below, that I shot Friday, May 17, beginning at 11:30 pm and ending 4 hours later at 3:30 am. The sky was bright with moonlight when I started the sequence, with the aurora especially active over half the sky. The display settled down to form a slowly pulsing green band behind the old barn, which went into silhouette after the Moon set.

Then, just as the sky was brightening with the first glow of dawn, the aurora kicked up its heels again and danced across the north, shooting beams of blue across the sky.

I ended the sequence as dawn was fading in … and I was fading out! Still, it was a wonderful night to be out under the stars.

The movie compresses 4 hours of aurora shooting into 40 seconds of aurora playback!

I assembled the time-lapse movie  from 1200 frames, each 11-second exposures at 1 second intervals, with the Canon 60Da at ISO 1600 and 10-22mm lens at f/4.

– Alan, May 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Old Barn By Aurora Light


Aurora Behind Old Barn (May 17, 2013)

As the Northern Lights dance they light up an old barn on a moonlit night.

The still frame above is from the movie down below, a 3-hour-long time-lapse taken on May 17, the night of the big aurora display. I shot this with a camera riding along on a motorized dolly track, to provide the panning motion to the scene.

You can see the rig in this image just below, which I took with another camera framing the entire scene.

Aurora over Old Barn #1 (May 17-18, 2013)

Using the second camera, I was intending to take shots showing a motion-control time-lapse sequence being taken, for illustration in talks and publications.

The aurora quickly forced me to change plans with camera #2. But I let the main motion-control camera continue down its track for the rest of the night, resulting in the movie below. At one point in the movie I briefly appear at right, as I moved the second camera to the south side of the barn to look north to the main area of the display.

 

In the movie, the stars of Virgo and the planet Saturn rise into a sky lit blue by moonlight early in the evening. As the Moon sets, the shadows rise and engulf the barn.

While catching stars rising behind the rustic old building was the original intention of the shot, the Northern Lights added a bonus. Not only do they dance in the sky behind the barn, but the north face of the old grey barn, in shadow from the moonlight, lights up green from the glow of aurora shining in the north.

Very nice. It certainly made for a colourful scene under the skies of southern Alberta.

– Alan, May 19, 2013 / © 2103 Alan Dyer