Galaxyrise


In the southern hemisphere sky we are treated to the stunning sight of the centre of the Galaxy rising each night, as the starfields of Scorpius and Sagittarius come up over the eastern horizon. In this shot, taken last night (May 2/3), we see the Milky Way’s heart rising behind some of the robotic, remotely-controlled domes and telescopes at the Atacama Lodge in Chile. Only the centre dome is operating, taking images or data under the command of someone half a world away.

Amazing technology to be sure, but … that robotic observer misses the experience of standing under the Milky Way, watching its heart rise over the Andes and swing overhead through the night. The Milky Way is so bright it lights the ground, as you can see here.

Last night our little group of 7 Canadian observers had a fantastic time exploring the southern sky with several telescopes, including an 18-inch reflector set up for us by lodge owner Alain Maury. With the help of a couple of wide-angle eyepieces we saw wonderful views of the Vela Supernova Remnant, dark nebulas in the Milky Way, and showpiece targets like Omega Centauri and the Tarantula Nebula – the list goes on! And will again tonight, as we compile another “hit-list” of targets to find tonight.

For this shot, I used the Canon 7D camera, a 15mm lens, and ISO 2500 for a 40 second exposure at f/2.8. This is one of about 500 frames taken for a time-lapse movie of “Galaxyrise.”

– Alan, May 3, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way from Chile


This was the Milky Way as it appeared toward the end of a long night of non-stop shooting from Chile. The centre of the Galaxy lies directly overhead and the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon. This is one of the sky’s greatest sights, and this is an ideal time of year to see it. But only if you are in the magic latitude zone of 20° to 30° south.

In this shot, another skyglow stretches up from the eastern horizon at left – that’s the Zodiacal Light, so obvious from this latitude. It’s sunlight reflected off comet dust in the inner solar system, and heralds the coming dawn twilight.

My tracking platform – the device that allows a camera to follow the sky for a time exposure – is at lower right, with a second camera taking telephoto lens shots of star clusters in the Milky Way.

I took this shot with the Sigma 8mm fish-eye lens and the Canon 5D MkII camera that was on a fixed tripod – it was not tracking the sky. But the 45-second exposure at ISO 3200 was enough to bring out the Milky Way in all its glory. This frame is one of 660 or so that make up (or will once I assemble it) a time-lapse movie of the Milky Way turning about the pole and rising through the night. The fish-eye format makes it suitable for projection in a planetarium dome.

– Alan, May 2, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

A Dawn Gathering of Planets


The joys of stargazing at southern latitudes! Here’s a shot from this morning, May 2, 2011, of the gathering of four planets now coming together in the pre-dawn sky. From Canada, you won’t see this well at all. The planets will be hugging the horizon and lost in the twilight. But from here in Chile, at a latitude of 23° south, the planets are arranged vertically straight up from the horizon. Over the next couple of weeks the planets will converge as Venus and Mercury drop down to meet Jupiter and Mars – they’ll be tightest, within 6° of each other on the mornings of May 11 and 12, when Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest objects here, will be closest together.

It was very neat watching them rise this morning over the Andes, first brilliant Venus popping over the ridge, then fainter Mercury, the Jupiter, and finally, at the bottom here, Mars. Venus and Mercury pair at top, and Jupiter and Mars are together at bottom.

The conical peak at left is 5,900-metre (19,400-foot) Licancabur, an extinct volcano, one of many along the line of the Andes. I shot this from just outside our dining room at the Atacama Lodge near San Pedro de Atacama. It was the finale of an all-night session shooting the Milky Way in stills and time-lapse. All the gear worked great and the raw images look fabulous. More to come!

– Alan, May 2, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Under Chilean Skies


Welcome to paradise for astronomers! Yesterday I arrived at the Atacama Lodge near the little resort town of San Pedro de Atacama in central Chile. As you can see, we’re at the base of the Andes and some very impressive volcanoes. The next week promises outstanding skies and night after night of non-stop shooting and sightseeing of southern sky splendours. And yes, the sky really is that blue!

I’m with a small group of three other fellow Canadian stargazers and we’ve met up with three other fellows from Québec who’ve been here a few nights already. So we’re told we’re the largest gathering of Canadians in this part of Chile! My group arrived yesterday evening after 24 hours of travel, the worst of which was the hour shopping for groceries at the superstore in Calama. It was the day before a national holiday, and the crowds were worse than Xmas eve back home.

But we’re settled in now, and all the equipment arrived unscathed and is ready to go. The scopes I’m posing with are ones that live on site for the public tours conducted by Alain and Ale Maury, owners of the Lodge. We had a great evening last night of binocular viewing but tonight we’ll be ready to go with our own gear all set up, plus an 18-inch we’ll be using for the week.

There is no finer place on the planet for astronomy. Watch for more photos coming soon!

– Alan, May 1, 2011 / photo by Bob Cassgrain.