The Night-Shadowed Prairie


The Night Shadowed Prairie

“No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie.” – William Butler, 1873

In the 1870s, just before the coming of the railway and European settlement, English adventurer William Butler trekked the Canadian prairies, knowing what he called “The Great Lone Land” was soon to disappear as a remote and unsettled territory.

The quote from his book is on a plaque at the site where I took the lead image, Sunset Point at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

The night was near perfect, with the Milky Way standing out down to the southern horizon and the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana. Below, the Milk River winds through the sandstone rock formations sacred to the Blackfoot First Nations.

The next night (last night, July 26, as I write this) I was at another unique site in southern Alberta, Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. The sky presented one of Butler’s unmatched prairie sunsets.

Big Sky Sunset at Red Rock Coulee

This is “big sky” country, and this week is putting on a great show with a succession of clear and mild nights under a heat wave.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Red Rock Coulee

The waxing crescent Moon adds to the western sky and the sunsets. But it sets early enough to leave the sky dark for the Milky Way to shine to the south.

The Milky Way at Red Rock Coulee

This was the Milky Way on Wednesday night, July 27, over Red Rock Coulee. Sagittarius and the centre of the Galaxy lie above the horizon. At right, Saturn shines amid the dark lanes of the Dark Horse in the Milky Way.

I’m just halfway through my week-long photo tour of several favourite sites in this Great Lone Land. Next, is Cypress Hills and the Reesor Ranch.

— Alan, July 27, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Auroras from Alberta


Aurora Self-Portrait (March 2 2017)

The solar winds blew some fine auroras our way this past week. 

Oh, that I had been in the North last week, where the sky erupted with jaw-dropping displays. I could only watch those vicariously via webcams, such as the Explore.org Northern Lights Cam at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

But here in southern Alberta we were still treated to some fine displays across our northern sky. The image below is from March 1, from my rural backyard.

Fish-Eye Aurora (March 1, 2017)
A full-frame fish-eye lens image of the aurora on March 1 with curtains reaching up into the Big Dipper.

The Sun wasn’t particularly active and there were no coronal mass ejections per se. But a hole in the corona let a wind of solar particles through to buffet our magnetosphere, stirring up geomagnetic storms of Level 4 to 5 scale. That’s good enough to light our skies in western Canada.

Aurora over Frozen Pond
A 160° panorama of the main auroral oval to the north on March 2 about 11:40 pm MST.

Above is the display from March 2, taken over a frozen pond near home. I like how the Lights reflect in the ice.

This night, for about 30 minutes, an odd auroral form appeared that we see from time to time at our latitudes. A wider panorama shows this isolated arc well south of the main auroral oval and forming a thin arc stretching across the sky from west to east.

Aurora Panorama with Isolated Arc
A 220° panorama of the isolated arc to the west (left) and east (right) and the main auroral oval to the north.

The panorama above shows just the western and eastern portion of the arc. Overhead (image below) it looked like this briefly.

Isolated Auroral Arc Overhead
The overhead portion of the isolated arc at its peak.

Visually, it appeared colourless. But the camera picks up this isolated arc’s usual pink color, with a fringe of white and sometimes (here very briefly) a “picket-fence” effect of green rays.

Isolated Auroral Arc West
The western portion of the isolated auroral arc at its peak.

This is the view of the isolated arc to the west. Erroneously called “proton arcs,” these are not caused by incoming protons. Those produce a very diffuse, usually sub-visual glow. But the exact nature of these isolated arcs remains a mystery.

As we head into solar minimum in the nest few years, displays of Northern Lights at lower latitudes will become less frequent. But even without major solar activity, last week’s displays demonstrated  we can still get good shows.

— Alan, March 4, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

Rainbows, Lightning, and Sunsets, Oh My!


Lightning and Rainbow at Sunset

The sky presented a pyrotechnic display of light and colour in the sunset sky.

What a show tonight, July 18, as a thunderstorm lit the sky with bolts of lightning. As the storm retreated, the Sun broke through, ideal lighting for a rainbow. In this case I was able to capture the rainbow pierced by bolts of lightning. See below for tech details.

A little later, the sunlight got stronger and the rainbow grew to span the sky, in a beautiful display of a double rainbow lit by the red light of the setting Sun.

Double Rainbow at Sunset
A double rainbow at sunset on July 18, 2016 after a pyrotechnic thunderstorm. The low Sun is providing the red lighting, with some shafts of sunlight and shadow converging to the anti-solar point. This is a 2-frame panorama with the 16-35mm lens at 16mm, stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

As the beams of sunlight lit the clouds, it looked like the rainbow was on fire.

Fiery Rainbow at Sunset
A double rainbow at sunset with the last rays of the setting Sun lighting the clouds and making the rainbow look like its on fire. A single image with the 16-35mm lens.

It has been a stormy start to summer in Alberta, but at times the sky has put on a stunning show. That was certainly the case tonight.

Technical on the Lightning and Rainbow shot at top:

This is a stack of 35 consecutive video frames taken with HD (1920 x 1080) resolution at 30 frames per second with the Canon 6D, and extracted as an image sequence with Photoshop, then processed in Adobe Camera Raw, then stacked with Russell Brown’s Stack-A-Matic into a smart object with maximum stack mode, to accumulate the frames taken over about 1 second into one still frame.

So I could have got this with a single 1-second exposure with the lens stopped way down and a ND filter, but my timing would have had to have been very, very lucky!

— Alan, July 18, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

 

Dawn Dance of Planets Concludes


The planet trio of Venus (brightest), Jupiter (above Venus) and Mars (dim and red to the left of Venus), all in Leo in the morning sky on November 1, 2015, with the waning gibbous Moon illuminating the landscape and sky. Even in the moonlight, the Zodiacal Light seems to be faintly visible along the ecliptic defined by the line of planets.  This is a stack of 6 x 30-second exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 2500 for more depth of the field for the ground, plus a 13-second exposure at f/2.5 and ISO 800 to minimize star trailing. The ground exposures were mean combined in a stack to smooth noise. Diffraction spikes added with Astronomy Tools Actions for Photoshop.

The gathering of planets at dawn is coming to an end as Venus meets Mars.

This was the view this morning from home in southern Alberta of the trio of planets in the moonlit morning sky.

Venus is the brightest, while dim red Mars shines just to the left of Venus. Jupiter is above the Venus & Mars pairing, with all the planets shining in Leo.

The planet trio of Venus (brightest), Jupiter (above Venus) and Mars (dim and red to the left of Venus), all in Leo in the morning sky on November 1, 2015, with the waning gibbous Moon illuminating the landscape and sky. The stars of Leo, including Regulus, shine above the planets. This is a stack of 4 x 30-second exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 2000 for more depth of the field for the ground, plus a 10-second exposure at f/2.8 and ISO 2000 to minimize star trailing. The ground exposures were mean combined in a stack to smooth noise. Diffraction spikes added with Astronomy Tools Actions for Photoshop.

Mars and Venus will appear closest to each other on November 2 and 3. Then the group breaks apart as Venus descends but Mars and Jupiter climb higher.

But as they do so they are joined by the waning Moon, by then a thin crescent, on November 6, when the Moon shines near Jupiter, and November 7, when it joins Venus for a stunning dawn sky scene.

After that the morning planet dance comes to an end. But in two months, in early January, Venus will meet up with Saturn for a very close conjunction in the winter dawn sky on January 9.

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

The Dancing Lights over Dinosaur Park


The Northern Lights over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. This is one frame from a 280-frame time-lapse sequence. Although, in this image the ground came from a later exposure in the sequence when passing car headlights lit the ground briefly on an otherwise dark, moonless night, to help sculpt the ground. This was with the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens for 15 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 6400.

The Northern Lights dance over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, a World Heritage Site.

Aurora alerts called for a fine display on Friday, September 11. Forewarned, I headed to one of my favourite shooting spots at Dinosaur Provincial Park, and aimed three cameras at the sky. It didn’t take long before the lights appeared, right on cue.

An aurora and the autymn Milky Way over the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. The stars, constellations and Milky Way of the autumn and early winter sky are rising in the northeast, including the objects: the Andromeda Galaxy at top, and the Pleiades at bottom.  This is one frame from a 200-frame time-lapse sequence, though in this image the ground comes from a Mean Combine stack of 7 images to smooth noise but the sky is from one image, each 30 seconds at f/2.8 with the Rokinon 14mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200 on a dark moonless night.

The display started out with lots of promise, but did fade after 12:30 a.m., just when it was supposed to be peaking in intensity. I let the cameras run for a while but eventually stopped the shutters and packed it in…

…But not before I captured this odd bit of aurora in the east, shown below, that appeared as an isolated and stationary band pulsing up and down in brightness, but with little movement.

An odd isolated arc of aurora in the eastern sky over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. This arc sat stationary and pulsed up and down in brightness over a few seconds. It was in some frames but not others. The winter stars of Taurus, including the Pleiades cluster, and Auriga are rising in the east.  The sky here is from a single exposure but the ground came from a Mean Combine stack of 8 exposures to smooth noise. Each was 40 seconds at f/2.8 with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200 on a moonless night.

I’ve seen these before and have never heard a good explanation of what process creates such an effect, with a patch of sky appearing to “turn on” and off.

You can see the effect at the end of the time-lapse compilation, linked below from Vimeo.

As usual, please enlarge to full-screen and watch in HD for the best quality.

Unfortunately, a patrolling park official checking on things, spoiled some frames with her truck’s headlights. It’s one of the hazards of time-lapse imaging.

As a final image, here are all the fish-eye lens frames stacked into one image, to create a single star trail showing the sky rotating about the celestial pole.

A composite stack of 198 images creating a circumpolar star trail image of the entire sky, with the motion of the stars and the Northern Lights over an hour recorded onto one frame.  The 8mm fish-eye lens take in almost all the sky, with the camera aimed northeast to the centre of the auroral arc, with Polaris, the centre of the sky’s rotation, at left. The scene is at Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, from September 11, 2015.  Each exposure was 20 seconds at f/3.5 with the Sigma 8mm lens and at ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The ground comes from a stack of 16 images taken early in the sequence turned into a smart object and mean combined with Mean stack mode, to average out and smooth noise. The sky comes from 198 exposures, Lighten stacked using the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com.
Each exposure was 20 seconds at f/3.5 with the Sigma 8mm lens and at ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The ground comes from a stack of 16 images taken early in the sequence turned into a smart object and mean combined with Mean stack mode, to average out and smooth noise. The sky comes from 198 exposures, Lighten stacked using the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com.

It’s been a good week for auroras, with a promise of more to come perhaps, as we approach equinox, traditionally a good time for magnetic field lines to align, funnelling solar storm particles into our magnetosphere.

Keep looking up!

— Alan, September 13, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

The Great Solstice Aurora of 2015


The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

Aurora watchers were on alert! Look up after sunset on June 22 and the sky should be alive with dancing lights.

And the predictions were right.

I headed out to a nearby lake in preparation for seeing and shooting the show. And as soon as the sky got dark enough the Lights were there, despite the bright solstice twilight.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The display reached up to the zenith, as seen in my fish-eye images, like the one below. I shot with three cameras, all shooting time-lapses, with the fish-eye camera recording the scene suitable for projection in a digital planetarium.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display peaked in a substorm with rays converging at the zenith in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

However, it was apparent we here in western Canada were seeing the end of the display that had been going on for hours during an intense geomagnetic storm. The aurora was most intense early in the evening, with a minor outburst about 11:30 to 11:45 pm MDT.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The aurora then subsided in structure and turned into a more chaotic pulsating display, typical of the end of a sub-storm.

A sky-covering display of Northern Lights, here in the western sky over a distant thunderstorm on the Alberta prairies. I shot this June 22, 2015 on a night with a grand display over most of the sky, with the sky bright with solstice twilight. The site was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake in southern Alberta. This is one frame from a 350-frame time-lapse, taken with the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens,

However, an attraction of this display was its juxtaposition over another storm, an earthly one, flashing lightning to the northwest of me.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display brightened again in the middle of the night at about 1 am, with rays converging at the zenith in the perpetual twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

By 1 a.m. MDT the display, while still widespread over a large area of the northern sky, had turned into a diffuse glow.

But 60 gigabytes of images later, I headed home. The time-lapse compilation will come later!

– Alan, June 23, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Twilight Triangle of Worlds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and fainter Jupiter above, with the three worlds forming a triangle in the twilight, on the evening of June 19, 2015, from a site north of Bassano, Alberta. This is an HDR stack of 5 exposures to retain detail in the dark foreground and bright twilight sky. This is with the 50mm lens and Canon 6D.

The three brightest objects in the night sky gathered into a tidy triangle in the twilight. 

On Friday night, June 19, I chased around my area of southern Alberta, seeking clear skies to capture the grouping of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus and Jupiter.

My first choice was the Crawling Valley reservoir and lake, to capture the scene over the water. I got there in time to get into position on the east side of the lake, and grab some shots.

The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and dimmer Jupiter above, all over Crawling Lake Reservoir, in southern Alberta, on June 19, 2015. This is a 5-exposure HDR stack to preserve deatails in the dark foreground and bright sky. Shortly after I took this shot clouds from an approaching storm front obscured the planets and the sky.

This was the result, but note the clouds! They were moving in quickly and soon formed a dramatic storm front. By the time I got back to the car and changed lenses, I was just able to grab the panorama below before the clouds engulfed the sky, and the winds were telling me to leave!

A wicker looking storm front moving in quickly over the Crawling Lake Reservoir in southern Alberta. I had just a few minutes to get set up for this after shooting the gathering of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the evening twilight from a nearby spot. Then clouds soon covered the planets. By the time I got back to the car to change lenses the storm front was almost on top of me. I grabbed segments for this panorama using a 24mm lens and Canon 6D. While the outflow winds really picked up, the storm didn’t amount to much and cleared off shortly after as it moved to the east from the northwest.

I drove west toward home, taking a new highway and route back, and finding myself back into clear skies, as the storm headed east. I stopped by the only interesting foreground element I could find to make a composition, the fence, and grabbed the lead photo.

Both it, and the second image, are “HDR” stacks of five exposures, to preserve detail in the dark foreground and bright sky.

It was a productive evening under the big sky of the prairies.

– Alan, June 20, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Aurora and the Old Farm Truck


An aurora display on the night of June 7/8, 2015 from southern Alberta, with an old rustic farm truck as the foreground. This is a frame from a 450-frame time-lapse with the Nikon D750 at ISO 1600 and the Sigma 24mm lens at f/2.8, for 8 seconds each. The foreground is from a stack of 8 images adjacent in time to the sky image stacked in Mean mode for smoothing of noise.

The northern lights returned to our prairie sky in a colourful display near solstice.

Last night, Sunday, June 7, I headed out to a nearby abandoned farmyard to shoot the planets setting into the western twilight. But as the sky darkened the faint arc of an aurora appeared to the northeast, promising a fine show after midnight.

Sure enough, as the sky got dark, which doesn’t happen until very late now at 50° north in mid-June, the aurora began to dance.

The top image is a frame from the display at its best. It is one of 400 frames I shot for a time-lapse sequence.

An aurora display on the night of June 7/8, 2015 from southern Alberta, with an old rustic farm truck as the foreground. This is a frame from a 450-frame time-lapse with the Nikon D740 at ISO 1600 and the Sigma 24mm lens at f/2.8, for 8 second each. The foreground is from a stack of 8 images adjacent in time to the sky image stacked in Mean mode for smoothing of noise.

This image is from the start of the sequence, just as the aurora was beginning to get good, with curtains of green laced with tints of magenta and purple. At this time of year the tops of the curtains often look blue, as they scatter direct sunlight streaming over the pole.

However, the colours were not visible to the unaided eye — only the camera brought out the colours, as this display never got intensely bright to the eye.

An aurora display on the night of June 7/8, 2015 from southern Alberta, with an old rustic farm truck as the foreground. This is a frame from a 450-frame time-lapse with the Nikon D740 at ISO 1600 and the Sigma 24mm lens at f/2.8, for 8 second each. The foreground is from a stack of 8 images adjacent in time to the sky image stacked in Mean mode for smoothing of noise.

Toward the end of the sequence the display began to spread out, becoming patchy and less colourful, a typical behaviour after a substorm outburst.

More activity may be in store this week. So keep looking up! And check Spaceweather.com for alerts.

— Alan, June 8, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

The Red Aurora of May 10


A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015, in a stack of 80 frames taken over 45 minutes. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. The 80 exposures were stacked and blended with Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com using the Long Trails effect. Each exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. An individual exposure adds the more point-like stars at the start of the tapered star trails, and add the blue from the last twilight glow still illuminating the sky at the start of the sequence.

A strange red arc of aurora moved slowly across the sky on May 10.

All indicators looked favourable early in the evening on May 10 for a good auroral display later that night, and sure enough we got one. But it was an unusual display.

From my site in southern Alberta, the northern sky did have a diffuse glow of “normal” green aurora that never did take much form or structure.

But overhead the aurora took the form of an arc across the sky, starting as an isolated ray in the southeast initially, then reaching up to arch across the sky with what looked to the eye like a colourless band.

But the camera showed it as a red arc, with just a fringe of green curtains appearing for a few minutes.

Be sure to click HD and enlarge the video to fill your screen.

The time-lapse movie shows the sequence, over about 90 minutes, with 170 frames playing back at 12 frames per second. You can see the red arc develop, then become more narrow, then exhibit a few green curtains. Then it fades away.

Large-scale pulses also brighten the whole sky momentarily.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

The other images are individual frames taken during the evening, showing snapshots of the red arc development, as it became more narrow in structure and gained green curtain-like fringes.

Presumably the red structure was very high in the atmosphere while the green curtains attached to it that did appear hung down from the high-altitude red arc.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

I shot all images with an 8mm fish-eye lens to capture most of the sky. The camera is looking north toward Polaris, with the Big Dipper almost directly overhead near the centre of the frames.

The main image at top is a star-trail stack of 80 frames showing the sky’s circumpolar motion around Polaris and the aurora blurred and blended over 45 minutes of motion. I stacked the frames with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com

– Alan, May 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Evening Stars Over the Red Deer River


Evening Stars Over Red Deer River

Mercury and Venus shine as “evening stars” over the Red Deer River in southern Alberta.

What a fine night this was for nightscape shooting. Mercury and Venus are both now about as high as they will get for the year in the evening sky from my western Canadian latitude.

Venus is easy to spot as the brilliant object in the west. But Mercury is more elusive. You can see it here low in the twilight glow and much dimmer than Venus.

The photo illustrates how far each of the two inner planets swings away from the Sun in our skies, and why Mercury has its reputation for being difficult to sight. Also, it appears at its best for only a couple of weeks at a time. By mid-May it will be gone.

Venus, however, continues to dominate our western sky for the next two months.

I shot the main photo from the deck of a rickety wooden bridge over the Red Deer River near Dorothy, Alberta, just off Highway 10 east of Drumheller in the Badlands.

The image is a high-dynamic-range “HDR” stack of five exposures.

Venus over the Atlas Coal Mine

Shortly after taking the lead photo, I drove west to the Atlas Coal Mine to shoot it by the light of the now high and nearly Full Moon. Mercury can still be seen low and to the right of the historic tipple building. Venus shines above it.

This is a single 25-second exposure at ISO 800.

The Atlas Coal Mine is now a National Historic Site and is the last standing from what was once a booming coal mining centre in the Red Deer River Valley.

Now, mostly dinosaur fossils are unearthed here.

– Alan, May 3, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Conjunction Over the Old Barn


Moon & Venus over Old Barn

The Moon and Venus shine in conjunction over an old pioneer barn.

Tonight, April 21, the waxing crescent Moon passed a wide eight degrees to the left of Venus. That’s a wide conjunction to be sure, if we can even call it a conjunction!

Nevertheless, when the two brightest objects in the night sky come together it’s worth looking at and photographing.

I had planned to drive west, to the Kananaskis area of southern Alberta, to shoot the celestial scene over the Rockies. But clouds to the west thwarted those plans.

As it is, I still fought the oncoming clouds out on the plains. I chose a favourite old barn near home. It made a rustic foreground to the twilight sky.

Venus remains a brilliant “evening star” all spring and into the early summer. We’ll see a similar wide passage of the crescent Moon by Venus a month from now, on the evening of May 21.

– Alan, April 21, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Back Under the Northern Lights


Aurora & Old Pioneer House

The aurora dances behind a pioneer homestead on the Alberta prairies.

After a stay of five months in New Mexico I arrived back in Alberta earlier this week, and was greeted tonight, April 15, with a display of Northern Lights. They’ve been very active in the last month, but I’ve seen nothing of them from where I was in New Mexico.

But here in southern Alberta, I just walk out onto my back deck and there they are! An email alert prompted me to have a look, after predictions earlier in the day called for little activity tonight. But indicators picked up nicely late in the evening.

I headed to an abandoned pioneer homestead near my acreage. A photogenic foreground always adds to the scene.

Aurora over Prairie Pond

A little further down the road is a prairie pond, ruffled a little by wind tonight, blurring the reflection I was hoping to capture.

It’s nice to be back under the Northern Lights. Bring them on!

– Alan, April 16, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Mars, Saturn and the Milky Way in Twilight


Mars, Saturn & Milky Way over Ranch Corral

Mars and Saturn meet in conjunction beside the Milky Way.

As it was getting dark two nights ago, I shot this view of Mars and Saturn (the “double star” at right, with Mars below Saturn) paired together now in the evening twilight. The location was Grasslands National Park, on the Park’s main loop tour road.

At the centre of the image is Scorpius and its bright star Antares, just behind the gate of the old corral.

At left are the star clouds of the Milky Way and the galactic core. Just above the horizon are the naked-eye star clusters Messier 6 and Messier 7, the most southerly of the popular Messier objects.

The sky is blue from the last of the twilight glow.

The image is a composite of two exposures, both 1 minute but one tracking the sky and one with the drive turned off to provide the sharper foreground.

– Alan, August 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Starlight at the Old Corral


Milky Way over the 76 Ranch Corral

The Milky Way shines behind the rustic corral of the 76 Ranch in Grasslands National Park.

It’s not a gunfight at the OK Corral, but starlight at the 76 Ranch Corral. I shot this Tuesday night in the Frenchman River valley in Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park. 

The scene captures the summer Milky Way, some green bands of airglow, and the old corral lit by starlight and some aurora beginning to brighten to the north.

Some occasional flashes of distant spotlights from down the valley also provide foreground illumination. The lights came from ferret spotters out at night checking on the nocturnal black-footed ferret. 

The corral once belonged to the 76 Ranch, one of the largest in Canada in its day and owned by Sir John Lister-Kaye, one of many upper class Brits who came to Canada in the 1880s to make their fortune in the newly opened range lands — until drought and hard winters of the southern Prairies forced them to sell out and break up their once huge land holdings. 

This image is a composite, but of five frames all shot at the same place in quick succession. I did not fake the sky into a foreground shot at some other time and place.

Four shots are tracked, to follow the sky for pinpoint stars. I used the new Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer tracker.

For one shot at the end of the sequence I turned the tracker’s drive off to take a single sharp image of the foreground.

Using masking in Photoshop I removed the blurry foreground from the sky images and the blurry trailed sky from the ground image.

Each was a 3-minute exposure at ISO 1600 with the 24mm lens at f/2.5.

 

Aurora over Grasslands Park


Aurora over Grasslands National Park #1

The Northern Lights dance over the prairie landscape of Grasslands National Park.

The aurora warnings were out for last night but I hadn’t expected to see much. But about 10:30 pm a faint arc appeared to the northeast. The display brightened about local midnight (Central Standard Time here in Saskatchewan) and became fairly active for a time.

The main arc increased in intensity and moved with fine structure and detail. The eye could see some faint, colourless curtains extending upward but the camera picks them up as red, typical of auroral curtains reaching into the top of the atmosphere.

Aurora over Grasslands National Park #2

I shot these from the Frenchman River valley, a wide coulee formed by glacial rivers and now the heart of the West Block of Grasslands National Park.

It was a beautifully dark site except for flashes of spotlights now and then (not seen in the photos here) from naturalists doing census studies of the nocturnal and endangered black-footed ferret recently re-introduced to the Park. Ironically, their lights spoiled the otherwise pristine and pitch-black night in this dark sky preserve.

– Alan, August 27, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset over the Lonely Log Cabin


Log Cabin at Sunset

The clouds paint the sky at sunset over a pioneer cabin in the Cypress Hills.

This is a scene the original resident of this cabin would have enjoyed – and painted.

This lonely log cabin in the Battle Creek valley was built by Robert David Symons, renowned as a rancher, naturalist, game warden, and painter, in the style of western artists such as Charlie Russell.

The cabin looks like it dates from the pioneer days of the first European settlement of the area, in the late 19th century. But Symons settled here and built this log cabin in 1939, during the time he worked as a game warden in the Hills, posted at the Battle Creek Ranger Station. He lived in the cabin for only three years before selling it to Albert and Sylvia Noble in 1942.

The Nobles expanded the cabin to accommodate their family. They lived here for 10 years, working a sawmill in the area.

Today the cabin is a scenic stop on the rough and often muddy Battle Creek Road that winds from the Alberta to the Saskatchewan side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Travelling it is like being back in the 1940s, when roads were no better than improved cart tracks.

Shooting Time-Lapses at Cypress Hills Log Cabin

I spent an evening here two nights ago on a perfect summer night, shooting the sunset and then the cabin scene by moonlight using time-lapse cameras and gear.

The main scene at top is a high dynamic range stack of 6 images to preserve details in the bright sky and dark foreground.

The self-portrait is a single shot taken by moonlight. Mars and Spica are just setting as a pair of stars over the hills across the valley.

It was a magical night in the Hills.

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Sunset on the Range


Sunset on the Range

The setting Sun provided a fine light show on the open range of the Canadian Prairies.

This was the scene Friday evening, July 4, as the Sun lit up the clouds in the big sky of the Historic Reesor Ranch.

I’m here for a week of intensive shooting and writing. On the first night the setting Sun put on a fine show, captured in still images, like the high dynamic range composite above, and in time-lapses captured with the motion control gear below.

Reesor Ranch Sunset Shoot #4

When I took these shots I was likely right on the 105th meridian, the line of longitude that marks the boundary of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Either way, the land is expansive and stunning.

Just to the south the land rises to the Cypress Hills and the namesake provincial park where I’m spending most nights shooting stills and time-lapses. More to come this week I’m sure!

– Alan, July 7, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

A Windy Day on the Wind Farm


Windfarm Cloudscape

It was windy day out on the wind farm, with some wonderful cloudscapes blowing by.

Shooting time-lapse movies by day is so much easier than shooting at night! Yesterday, to try out some new gear and grab footage for some demo videos, I drove to the nearby Wintering Hills Wind Farm, site of some previous images and movies I’ve posted. It’s a wonderful place for nightscapes, but in this case I shot cloudscapes by day.

The movie compiles five time-lapse clips into a short demo of cloudscapes and time-lapse techniques: using fixed cameras and using cameras on motorized devices that move the camera a little between each time-lapse frame – what’s called “motion control.”

It might take a moment to load and play through. But do expand it to full screen.

 

For two clips in the movie I used a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly rail, a unit I bought two years ago and have used a lot for time-lapse shooting.

DP Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R on Induros

Here I show it on the new pair of Induro tripods, a much more stable arrangement than the single large tripod I had been using up to now. What’s also new is the Stage R panning unit, now attached to the dolly platform, here on the left (the controller is on the right).

DP Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R CU

What this motorized unit does is allow the camera to slowly turn in azimuth as it is running down the rail, to keep the camera aimed at a foreground subject, or to pan along the horizon, as I do in one of the clips in the movie.

This is a brand new piece of kit, purchased last month through Dynamic Perception’s Kickstarter campaign. I got one of the first batch of units shipped out. It works very well but takes a little practice to get the speeds set right. I’m still working on that!

I hope you enjoy the little demo movie. It shows that even cloudy skies can be photogenic at times!

– Alan, June 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Moon and Venus Rising


Moon and Venus RisingThe waning Moon and Venus rise together into the summer dawn.

This was the scene this morning, June 24, as the waning crescent Moon rose together in conjunction with Venus, into the dawn sky.

The morning could not have been more clear for a great view of them coming up over the distant hills in southern Alberta.

Moon and Venus Above the Mist

Pity there was not also some noctilucent clouds, but this morning there was no sign of them. Nor of any aurora through the night, despite promising signs of activity. But the morning show made up for their absence.

The waning Moon and Venus are together again on the morning of July 24, exactly a month from now.

– Alan, June 24, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Rainbow at Sunset


Rainbow over Prairie Field (Wide-Angle)As the setting Sun broke through clouds it created a rainbow over my backyard.

I see lots of fine sky phenomena right from my back deck. Such was the case last evening as a storm retreated east as they typically do. Clearing skies in the west allowed the Sun to shine through, the perfect combination for a rainbow.

For the main image above I shot the double rainbow with the ultra-wide 14mm Rokinon lens …

Rainbow over Prairie Field (Fish-Eye

… and also with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens for this image. It’s angled to be suitable for re-projection in a tilt-dome planetarium theatre.

We’re into stormy spring weather here in Alberta, so there will be many more rainbows to follow the dark clouds. Let’s hope for no more floods like last June.

– Alan, June 1, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Great Lone Land … and Great Big Sky


The Gap Road Panorama (Cypress Hills Park)

A vast blue sky and summer storm clouds arch over a prairie landscape.

This is a place where you are out on the vast open plains, looking much as they would have appeared hundreds of years ago. This is big sky country, in southwest Saskatchewan. I shot this 360° panorama last Sunday, on a road I get to take every few years that is one of the great drives in western Canada.

Some years it is too wet and impassable. Other years it is too dry and closed because of the fire hazard.

This is the Gap Road, a mud track at times between the Saskatchewan and Alberta units of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The road crosses private rangeland but the cattle are the only giveaway that this is a modern scene and not one from the 19th century.

In 1872 the British explorer and adventurer William Francis Butler crossed the prairies and northern plains in the last days of the buffalo culture, before the cattle and ranchers arrived. He called it then The Great Lone Land. You feel that sense in a place like this, out on the open treeless plains. 150 years ago great herds of bison roamed here. And it was here that the North West Mounted Police set up their first outpost in the area, at Fort Walsh, to stop the incursions of the American “wolfers.”

The sky dominates the scene. I spent an hour here, shooting a time-lapse of the approaching thunderstorm, at right, coming toward me from miles away, until it filled the sky and threatened to turn the road back into mud.

It was a wonderful day spent crossing the prairies, and traveling back in time.

– Alan, August 16, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Grand Sweep of the Auroral Oval


Aurora Panorama #4 from Reesor Ranch (July 13, 2013)

The Northern Lights sweep across the northern horizon in a classic arc of green and magenta curtains.

The aurora on the night of July 13/14 never got very bright but the sweep of the auroral oval still made for an interesting panoramic image.

I shot this at about 2 a.m. local time, from the high plains of southwest Saskatchewan, right on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, on the rolling hills of the historic Reesor Ranch. The only man-made light visible is a glow on the horizon just left of the auroral arc, from the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The panorama takes in about 180° of sky, framing the sweep of the auroral oval across the northern horizon from northeast to northwest. In fact, you can see the gravel road I was on at far left and far right. The main band of green from glowing oxygen is topped by curtains of magenta, from oxygen and nitrogen atoms.

If you could see this display from space you would see it as an oval of light across the top half of North America. From my perspective on Earth, I could see just a portion of the complete oval, as an arc across the northern sky.

To create this image I shot 6 segments at 30° spacings, each a 30-second exposure with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 on a Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. I used Photoshop to stitch the segments. It blended them seamlessly.

– Alan, July 14, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset Panorama at Reesor Ranch


Sunset at Reesor Ranch Panorama #1 (July 11, 2013)

The setting Sun lights up a classic Canadian prairie skyscape. 

This was sunset last night, July 11, from the historic Reesor Ranch in southwest Saskatchewan, on the north edge of the Cypress Hills. The clouds opened up across the sky in a Chinook arch, with clearing to the west where the waxing Moon and Venus were also setting into the twilight.

It was a stunning scene looking out over the plains from the highlands of the hills.

I’m in the area for a week of shooting, weather permitting.

This shot is a 7-section panorama, stitched with Photoshop’s Photomerge command.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Purple Curtains of Northern Lights


Auroral Curtains (July 9, 2013)

Curtains of purple and pink top the usual green bands of aurora.

The last couple of nights have been very clear and filled with aurora. Two nights ago, July 9, the sky really let loose for a good display showing a great range of colours. Only the green was readily visible to the naked eye, but the cameras picked up the fainter bands of purple and magenta.

Most of the colours here come from oxygen atoms glowing. But high up, in the near vacuum of space, oxygen can glow red. The curtains can also be lit by sunlight coming over the pole, lending a blue tint to the aurora. The two colours blend to give purple.

Lower down in the atmosphere, green lines from oxygen predominate. When an aurora is very energetic, the incoming electrons can trigger nitrogen lower in the atmosphere to glow red and pink, giving the curtains a red fringe on the lower edge. That didn’t happen this night.

All-Sky Auroral Curtains (July 9, 2013)

This fish-eye shot of the entire sky shows the high purple curtains arching up the sky. Over several minutes they separated and ascended away from the main green band, shooting up the sky. It seemed as if they were their own curtains and not just a different coloration fringing the main display.

The Northern Lights have been active lately so keep an eye on Spaceweather.com and AuroraWatch for alerts and warnings.

– Alan, July 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunrise on the Plains


Sunrise on a Canola Field (July 9, 2013)

The Sun rises into a pastel palette of sky and earth tones.

I woke up early, just at sunrise, looked outside and wow!

I grabbed the camera and telephoto and got another nice shot right from my back deck. The canola field next to my yard is proving to be a photogenic foreground now that it’s in full bloom, just in the last couple of weeks.

There was enough haze and humidity in the air to dull the Sun to a fiery orange. The range of shades in earth and sky was wonderful. It was a classic prairie scene worth getting up for.

Being able to see the horizon is why I live on the plains and not in the foothills or mountains. And certainly not in the city!

– Alan, July 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way of Spring on the Prairies


Summer Milky Way over Field (May 2013)

Late on a clear spring night on the Canadian Prairies the Milky Way rises over a fallow field.

Despite taking this not 200 feet from my home, this isn’t a view I see or photograph very often. In spring on the Canadian Prairies, it seems we go from dark winter nights to the bright skies of mid-summer with little in between to mark spring. Miss a dark-of-the-Moon period in late April or early May and you miss the opportunity to see and shoot this sight – the summer Milky Way rising late on a dark spring night, with Scorpius due south. In another month this same sky will be washed out by the glow of perpetual twilight around solstice.

By July or August when dark skies return, the Milky Way will be already well up at nightfall, and Scorpius on the way down past his prime for the year.

But in this shot, taken at 3 am this morning, during a welcome run of clear moonless nights, I framed Scorpius at lower right skimming the southern horizon as high as he gets from western Canada. The yellow star at lower right is Antares, the heart of the Scorpion. To the left of Scorpius, the spectacular starclouds of the summer Milky Way span the sky from Sagittarius in the southeast to Cygnus high in the east at upper left.

Around me now, farmers are beginning their work of tilling and seeding the fields. But this one will likely lay fallow this year, the furrows seeming to extend off into the distant Milky Way.

This is a stack of five 2.5-minute tracked exposures, but with the ground included from just one of the exposures, to minimize the blurring introduced by the moving camera. The lens was the wonderful 14mm Samyang, a manual lens that doesn’t register in the camera’s metadata, thus the reading at left that this was taken with a 50mm lens, the default setting when the camera doesn’t know what optics it is connected to.

– Alan, May 6, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer