Celebrating Apollo


Presenting Apollo Show

To mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, my contribution was to produce a planetarium show about the missions. 

I’ve been retired from active planetarium show production and science centre work for more than 5 years now. But it’s great to get back in the Dome now and then.

The opportunity came this summer with the hugely popular 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. Everyone was hosting events and parties.

To contribute to the local science centre’s event, TELUS Spark in Calgary kindly gave me the keys to the Evans and Sutherland Digistar planetarium system to produce a special lecture/show for the Dome about the Apollo landings.

It was part of Spark’s well-attended Moon Landing Party night July 20. A collage of iPhone images shows some of the other activities that evening.

It was a capacity crowd, and both my shows were “sold out” with full houses. Indeed, I’m presenting extra shows by popular demand in the coming week so those who couldn’t get tickets on July 20 can see the program.

For you to see the show, and to document it for my posterity, I shot time-lapses of me presenting the show, first in rehearsal with some staff present shot from the audience point of view, then in the first presentation from the stage (my) point of view.

The time-lapses compressed the hour-long show into two 1-minute clips. It really wasn’t that frantic in real life! Here’s the video, from my YouTube channel.

I was impressed and surprised at how popular the Apollo anniversary has been. For most today the Moon landings are old history, before their time. Yet, the Apollo missions continue to inspire and amaze.

It was a wonderful moment to be alive.

— Alan, July 24, 2019 / © 2019 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Urban Orion


Urban Nightscape – Orion over Calgary

On a very clear night, Orion shines over the skyline of Calgary.

As I live in the country, it’s not often I shoot the stars from urban sites, and certainly not from downtown Calgary. But the combination of a clear night and a speaking commitment in Calgary provided a chance to see what was possible under ideal conditions.

The lead image is real – I did not paste an image of the sky taken at some other time or place over the skyline image.

However, the sky image is a longer exposure (10 seconds) than the ground (3 seconds) in order to bring out the stars better, while keeping the city lights under control with no overexposure. So it is sort of a high dynamic range blend.

The other factor that helped reveal stars as faint as shown here (fainter than what the naked eye can see) is the use of a light pollution reduction filter (a NISI Natural Night filter) to penetrate the yellow sky glow and provide a more pleasing colour to the sky.

Earlier in the night, during twilight when urban light pollution is not so much of an issue, I shot the waxing crescent Moon setting over the skyline.

Crresent Moon over Calgary

This is a panorama image made from high dynamic range blends of various exposures, to again accommodate the large range in brightness in the scene. But I did not use the NISI filter here.

These images demonstrate how you can get fine astronomy images even from urban sites, with planning and timing.

To that end, I used my favourite app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, to determine where the sky elements would be as seen from a couple of viewpoints over the city that I’ve used in the past.

The blue spheres in the left image of TPE in its Night mode represent the Milky Way. That chart also shows the direction toward Orion over the city core.

The right image of TPE in its Day mode shows the position of the Moon at 6 pm that evening, again showing it to the left of the urban core.

Other apps are capable of providing the same information, but I like TPE for its ease of use.

Clear skies!

— Alan, January 20, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

The “Blue Moon” over Calgary


The Full Moon of July 31, 2015, an infamous “blue Moon”, the second Full Moon of July, rising over the skyline of Calgary, Alberta. This is one frame of a 480-frame time-lapse sequence taken with the Canon 60Da and 28-105mm lens. The location was Toronto Crescent.

The much-publicized “Blue Moon” of July rises over the skyline of Calgary.

Last night, July 31, many people looked east to see a wonderful moonrise. Did it look different than any other moonrise? No. But did it look great? You bet.

I set up my cameras at a site in northwest Calgary, picked for its sightline looking east-southeast over the downtown core of Calgary and directly toward the moonrise point.

I used the software The Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan the location and angles. It is wonderful for making sure you are in the right place at the right time for catching a photogenic moonset or moonset.

Here’s the screen shot from TPE that showed me where to be Friday evening. The blue line aims to the moonrise point.

IMG_2473

Of course, despite the planning the Moon did not look blue! Blue Moons, as they have come to be defined, never do. The term now means the second Full Moon in a calendar month. We had a Full Moon on Canada Day, July 1, and then enjoyed a second July Full Moon one lunar cycle later on July 31.

I shot the scene with two cameras, each shooting hundreds of frames for time-lapses, from which I extracted still images.

A short 1-minute music video of the result is here at Vimeo. Enlarge the screen and be sure HD is selected.


As a technical note, for the processing I used the latest version 4.2 of LRTimelapse and its new “Visual Deflicker” workflow which very nicely smooths out all the frame-to-frame flickering that can plague daytime and twilight shots taken under Auto Exposure.

While the shutter speed does constantly decrease, it does so in 1/3rd-f/stop steps, yielding stair-step jumps in brightness. LRT smooths all that out, with v4.2 doing a much better job than earlier versions.

Thanks for watching!

— Alan, August 1, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Live from Pluto under the Planetarium Dome


Live From Pluto Talk04

It was a full house for my Live from Pluto talk at TELUS Spark!

Something a little different from me this time. Not images or time-lapses of scenic places, but of me presenting a lecture and planetarium show!

This past two weeks I was immersed back into the world of planetarium programming.

Last night, July 16, was the culmination, as I presented a talk and planetarium show devoted to viewing the amazing new images from Pluto and the New Horizons probe … and to taking the audience through the solar system courtesy of the planetarium theatre’s Digistar 5 projection system.

The lecture was in the Digital Dome at TELUS Spark, the science centre in Calgary, Alberta. As you can see, it played to a packed “standing room only” house in the dome. The short time-lapse compresses my one-hour lecture into one minute!

In it, you can get a fast-paced taste of the visuals and immersive scenes I was able to program and project onto the dome with the Digistar.

That’s me down front on stage, running the show off the Digistar’s iPad.

What a way to present a lecture! I spent 40 years producing and presenting planetarium shows, but these new tools for visualizing the universe in the dome are jaw-dropping. It was fun to get back using them again, to bring this historic flyby event to the public in a unique way.

The movie begins with the audience entering, and ends with the Q&A and audience exiting. It includes scenes where we fly alongside New Horizons out to Pluto, then orbit Ceres with Dawn, plus land on a comet with Rosetta and Philae.

I shot the time-lapse with a Canon 6D and 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens shooting under Auto Exposure for a total of 1177 frames, taken at an interval of 8 seconds, played back here at 15 frames per second. The camera was behind the dome in the cove, where it would not be disturbed. Music is by Adi Goldstein.

Many thanks to the staff at TELUS Spark (sparkscience.ca) for making the event possible.

– Alan, July 17, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Urban and Rural Moons


The waxing crescent Moon near Venus in the spring evening sky over the skyline of Calgary, Alberta, May 21, 2015. I shot this from Tom Campbell Hill near the Telus Spark science centre. This is a single exposure with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 60Da, shot as part of a 360-frame time-lapse sequence.

The waxing Moon and Venus shine over contrasting landscapes, both urban and rural.

I shot the main image at top last night, May 21, from a site overlooking the urban skyline of Calgary, Alberta. The waxing Moon shines near Venus in the twilight sky.

By contrast I shot the image below the night before, from a location that couldn’t be more different – remote, rural Saskatchewan, on a heritage farmstead first settled in the 1920s by the Butala family. It is now the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.

The waxing crescent Moon and Venus (above) over the old farm house at the Visitor Centre at the Old Man on His Back Natural and Historical Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan, May 20, 2015, on a very clear night. The old house was the original house lived in by the Butala family who settled the area in the 1920s. This is a single exposure taken as part of an 850-frame time-lapse sequence with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 60Da camera.

Here, the crescent Moon shines a little lower, below Venus, amid the subtle colours of twilight in a crystal clear prairie sky.

However, as the top image demonstrates, you don’t need to travel to remote rural locations to see and photograph beautiful sky sights. Twilight conjunctions of the Moon and bright planets lend themselves to urban nightscapes.

– Alan, May 22, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moonrise Over Calgary


Full Moonrise over Calgary

The Full Moon rises over the skyline of Calgary on a clear spring night.

This was the moonrise on Sunday, May 3, as the Full Moon rose south of the main skyline of Calgary. The timing of last night’s Full Moon promised a great shot.

The Moon rose about 15 minutes before sunset, a timing that I was hoping would lead to a shot of the skyline lighting up red with the last rays of the setting Sun in the west as the Moon rose in the east.

Alas, horizon haze obscured the setting Sun and rising Moon. The Full Moon didn’t appear until a good 30 minutes after moonrise as it rose above the haze into the pink twilight sky. Not quite what I was after, but it made a nice scene after all.

I shot this from the grounds of the CFCN TV building high on Broadcast Hill west of the city. There wasn’t an accessible site farther north with a clear sightline east that would have allowed me to place the Moon right over the city.

From this site at CFCN the Full Moon won’t rise over the downtown core until the Full Moon of September 27, the night of the total eclipse of the Moon. Photo op!

This is one frame of 430 I shot for a time-lapse sequence. To plan this and other rise and set images I use the handy app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

TPE Screenshot
A screen shot from TPE showing the photo’s shooting geometry

This screen shot from TPE illustrates last night’s moonrise geometry, with the moonrise line pointing just south of the downtown core as seen from the CFCN site.

I highly recommend TPE for planning any nightscape photography of the rising and setting Sun and Moon.

– Alan, May 4, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Marvelling at the Milky Way


RAO Milky Way Night Panorama

People gather at a rural observatory to gaze at the Milky Way on a summer night.

The clouds drifted through now and then but skies were mostly clear for the last of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory‘s annual Milky Way Nights for 2014.

A tradition since 2009 and the Year of Astronomy, these dark-of-the-moon nights at the Observatory have proven hugely popular each summer despite the 10 p.m. start and 2 a.m. finish!

The main image at top shows a 360° panorama as people were gathering at the portable telescopes and lining up – in a blur – for a look inside the observatory domes.

RAO Milky Way Night #1 (Aug 30, 2014)

Roland from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada provided laser-guided star tours. How did we point out the stars and constellations before green lasers? In the hands of responsible astronomers they are a great tool for public education.

RAO Milky Way Night #4 (Aug 30, 2014)

Here he’s pointing out Vega and the stars of the Summer Triangle. Look way up!

About 400 people attended on Saturday night, the last in a trio of nights this past week. As you can see, the event attracts people of all ages. It’s even a popular date night attraction.

RAO Milky Way Night #6 (Aig 30, 2014)

At these summer stargazing sessions many people bring blankets to just lie back and look up, at a site away from the ugly glow of the city, here lighting up the clouds to the north.

It was a great night of public stargazing!

– Alan, August 31, 2014 / © 2014 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

 

 

Sunset on the City


The Sun sets in a ball of fire behind the skyline of Calgary.

For this shot on September 27 I found a spot on an overpass on the Ring Road east of Calgary to look west. Using an app for the iPad, LightTrac, I was able to locate the exact spot where the Sun would set behind the skyline, including the new 50-storey Bow Tower.

Getting the Sun big compared to the buildings means shooting from a distance with a telephoto lens. I used a 200mm and 1.4x extender here.

It would have been nice to have shot from a higher altitude but such places are hard to find east of Calgary where the land flattens out onto the prairie. However, this was a good test of the technique for lining up a rising or setting Sun or Moon with a photogenic foreground. That’ll come in handy this weekend for the Harvest Moon.

– Alan, September 27, 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

 

Eclipse — A Parking Lot Partial


This was the view Sunday evening as the Sun descended into the northwest sky, accompanied by the Moon covering part of its disk.

I shot this near mid-eclipse with a handheld camera and filter dimming what would have otherwise been a vastly overexposed Sun. A liberal use of Photoshop’s Highlight recovery and Shadow details tools compressed the dynamic range even more, to bring out details in the sky and clouds and in the dark filtered image. But this is a single image, not a composite.

As you can see, even at its best the Sun shone through light cloud, which added somewhat to the scenery of the sky and the weird quality of the light at mid-eclipse. But all told, I’d rather do without clouds at any eclipse. They make for anxious moments I could live without.

I took this shot from the TELUS Spark science centre, where we set up sidewalk telescopes for viewing the eclipse, looking over the parking lot and hill to the west of us. It’s where the Sun will also be for the transit.

— Alan, May 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Conjunction over Calgary


For my continuing series of Venus-Jupiter conjunction shots, on Wednesday night I stayed in Calgary and shot the planets over the city skyline.

Here Venus and Jupiter shine in the clear evening twilight over the downtown core of the city, now dominated by the new Bow tower. I  didn’t have to venture far for this shot, as the best vantage point and angle for framing the planets over the city was the top of Tom Campbell Hill, right beside the TELUS Spark science centre where I work.

We’ll see if the clear nights continue. But it’s been a good run all this week. The last few blogs show the results from each night’s shooting since Saturday.

— Alan, March 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset in the City — This is Only a Test!


This is one for the time-lapse geeks!

One of the trickiest subjects for a time-lapse sequence is a smooth and seamless day-to-night transition. Exposure times vary from fractions of a second before sunset to several seconds at night fall.

How to do it? Manually shifting exposures is too much work and prone to error. Putting the camera on Automatic can work but inevitably results in an effect known in the time-lapse world as “flickering.” The camera’s automatically-judged exposures aren’t consistent from frame to frame so the final movie shows minor bright/dark flickering, making it look jerky.

For this test sequence of sunset over the Calgary skyline, I tried a new toy for the first time, as a solution.

The device is called the Little Bramper (for Bulb Ramping). It is a custom-made intervalometer that fires the camera shutter every few seconds (at whatever interval you desire). Nothing new there. But what’s unique is that it can be set to slowly increment the exposure time by as little as 1/1000th of a second from frame to frame, gradually increasing the exposure (“ramping” it) to accommodate the darkening scene. The result is a smooth transition from day to night with no flickering.

This was my first use of the Bramper and it wasn’t without its glitches. The shortest exposure the Bramper can provide (it always controls the camera thru its Bulb setting) is about 1/10th of a second (I had no idea camera shutters can fire as quickly as that even on Bulb).

But at the beginning of a sequence like this, with a bright sky, achieving that exposure (still quite long) means using a small f-stop, a slow ISO speed, or a neutral density filter, or all of the above. But as the sky darkens and exposures lengthen, exposures would become too long to fit within the desired interval between frames (typically no more than 5 to 10 seconds for a smooth sequence). So, to shorten the exposures you then have to open up the lens, switch to a faster ISO, or remove the ND filter, while also commanding the Bramper to quickly reduce its exposure time, all in one exposure cycle (i.e. 5 to 10 seconds) so as not to lose or ruin frames. Takes some coordination and practice (hit the Bramper’s button, adjust the camera, all within 5 seconds), and I didn’t get it right the first couple of times.

But overall, for a first test, the sequence turned out very well. The $80 Little Bramper does the job, though it does take careful monitoring through the sequence, not just to perform the exposure swaps, but to also watch that the ramping rate (adjustable on the fly) matches what the scene is doing and you aren’t under- or over-exposing. It’ll take a little more practice, but the results certainly are worth it.

It’s another neat tool in the time-lapse arsenal.

— Alan, August 10, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer