The Amazing Austral Sky


Panorama of the Milky Way Overhead

The latitude of 30° South is the magic latitude on Earth for seeing the Milky Way.

From that region of the world – southern Australia, central South America, southern Africa – the centre of the Galaxy passes overhead, and you see the view at top.

You see the galactic core glowing brightly at the zenith, and the arms of the Milky Way stretching off to the horizon on either side of the core – to Aquila at left, for the northern half of the Galaxy, and to Carina at right, for the southern half of the Galaxy. That area of the Galaxy is always below the horizon for viewers at northern latitudes.

The image below focuses in on just the southern portion of the Milky Way, framing what in Australia is called the “Dark Emu,” a constellation made of the dark lanes along the Milky Way, from his head at right in Crux, to his tail at left in Scutum.

The Dark Emu Overhead

This is the most amazing region of the Milky Way, and is worth the trip south of the equator just to see, by lying back and looking up. You can easily see we live in a vast Galaxy, and not in the centre, but off to one side looking back at the core glowing overhead.

I would say there are three sky sights that top the list for spectacle:

• A bright all-sky aurora

• A total solar eclipse

• and the naked eye view of the Galaxy with its centre overhead and its arms across the sky from horizon to horizon.

I’ve checked off two this year! One more to go in August!

— Alan, May 2, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / 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

Night of the Space Station


A pass of the International Space Station in the bright moonlight, on the evening of May 31, 2015, with the gibbous Moon to the south at centre. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the first pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 11:06 pm MDT this evening. Numerous other fainter satellite trails are also visible. This is a composite stack of 95 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 14mm lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The Space Station is now continuously lit by sunlight, allowing me to capture dusk-to-dawn passages of the ISS.

On the night of May 31/June 1 I was able to shoot four passages of the International Space Station on successive orbits, at 90-minute intervals, from dusk to dawn.

The first passage, at 11:06 p.m., was low across the south. It’s the image at top.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in to the south, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the second pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 12:44 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 91 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. An aircraft supplies the other dashed trail across the top and intersecting with the ISS trail. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

Then at 12:45 a.m. the Space Station came over again, now directly overhead. It’s the image above. The Moon is the bright glow at bottom.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in the southwest, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the third pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 2:21 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 66 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. Unfortunately, I missed catching the start of this pass. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

One orbit later, at 2:21 a.m., the Station came over in another overhead pass in the bright moonlight.

A pass of the International Space Station in the brightening twilight of dawn, on the morning of June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon setting to the southwest at right. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (southeast) over several minutes. This was the last pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 3:55 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 144 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The final passage of the night came at 3:55 a.m. as the sky was brightening with dawn twilight and the Moon was setting. This was another passage across the south, and made for the most photogenic pass of the night.

Here’s an edited movie of the four passes, with a little music just for fun.

Seeing the Space Station on not one but two, three, or even four orbits in one night is possible at my latitude of 50 degrees north around summer solstice because the Station is now continuously lit by sunlight — the Sun never sets from the altitude of the ISS.

When the ISS should be entering night, sunlight streaming over the north pole still lights the Station at its altitude of 400 km.

To shoot the time-lapse clips and stills I used 8mm and 15mm fish-eye lenses, and a 14mm ultra-wide lens.

The bright moonlight made it possible to use short 2- to 4-second exposures, allowing me to record enough frames at each passage to make the little movies of the ISS flying across the sky. Keep in mind, to the eye, the ISS looks like a bright star. Some image processing trickery adds the tapering trails.

I used the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com to create the trail effects, and to stack the time-lapse frames into single composite still images. The gaps in the trails are from the one second interval between frames.

– Alan, June 2, 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

The Colourful Curtains of the Northern Lights


All-Sky Aurora #1 (Feb 17, 2015)

The Northern Lights have performed beautifully the last few nights, presenting curtains of light dancing across the sky.

Two nights ago in Churchill, Manitoba we were treated to a “storm level” show of aurora, with the Lights all across the sky in green curtains waving and curling before our eyes.

The curtains tower several hundred kilometres up into the atmosphere, from the lower edge at about 80 km up (still high above the stratosphere) to the curtain tops at about 400 km altitude at the edge of space.

The camera picks up the colours far better than the eye can, recording not only the predominant green hues but also shades of pink, magenta and red.

All-Sky Aurora #5 (Feb 17, 2015)

The magentas and reds come from the sections of the curtains at the highest altitudes, from the top of the auroral curtains. Here, where the atmosphere is a near vacuum, sparse oxygen atoms can glow with a red emission line.

However, there must be a blue component as well, leading to the magenta or pink tones, as in my photos here. Nitrogen can glow in blues and purples and might be contributing to the colours.

The top two photos are from Tuesday night, Feb 17, when storm levels of 5 were in effect worldwide.

All-Sky Auroral Curtains #2 (Feb 18, 2015)

Lower down, at about 100 km altitude, the air is denser and oxygen glows with a brighter green hue, which the eye can detect more easily.

The photo above from last night, with an activity level of just 2, also shows most of the sky covered with a faint emission, with a patchy appearance, with dark “holes” also moving and flowing in the time-lapse movies I shot.

Closer to the horizon, and far to the north, the aurora brightens into the more characteristic green snaking curtains.

Red Auroral Curtains

This image from three nights ago shows an usually coloured aurora at the start of the night, glowing mostly a deeper red and orange.

The green was still off in the distance far to the east. It arrived a few minutes later as green curtains swept in over us.

But the initial red was from low-energy electrons lighting up just high-altitude oxygen. Only when the higher energy particles arrived did the sky light up green.

All-Sky Aurora #7 (Feb 17, 2015)

I shot all these images with an 8mm fish-eye lens as frames in time-lapse sequences intended for use projected in digital planetarium domes, where the 360° “all-sky” scene would be recreated on the dome as it was in real life.

If you are with a planetarium, contact me if you’d like to get aurora clips.

Our second group of aurora tourists has arrived today at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and the weather is warming to a high of -20° C. Balmy!

We’re hoping for more fine displays, though the space weather forecast calls for a quiet magnetic field in the next few days.

– Alan, February 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

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 Galactic Archway of the Southern Sky


Two Styx Night Sky Panorama (Rectilinear)

The southern Milky Way arches across the sky, with the centre of the Galaxy overhead at dawn.

This was the sky at 4:30 this morning, as Venus rose in the east (to the right) amid the zodiacal light, and with the Milky Way soaring overhead. This image is a 360° panorama of the scene, with the zenith, the overhead point, at the top centre of the frame.

The location is the Two Styx Cabins, on the border of New England National Park in New South Wales, Australia. The cabin with the light on (I left it on on purpose for the photo) is where I stayed for two nights in splendid isolation.

The panorama is a stitch of 6 frames shot with an 8mm fish-eye lens, each 1-minute exposures on an untracked tripod. I used the PTGui software program to assemble the pan.

Below is an alternative rendering, in spherical format, to create the more classic “fish-eye” view, but one extending well below the horizon. So this is not one image but a stitch of six.

Two Styx Night Sky Panorama (Fish-Eye)

In this version you can more readily see the spectacle of the Milky Way at dawn in the southern hemisphere autumn months, with the bulge of the galactic core directly overhead as seen from this latitude of 30° south. It is a wonderful sight.

This is my last view of it for this trip. Till next year!

— Alan, April 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Rings Around the Moon


Lunar Halo & Contrail at CNSC (Feb 9, 2014)An ice crystal halo surrounds the Moon while a jet contrail crosses the sky. 

On our last nights earlier this week at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we had a bright gibbous Moon in our sky (as did everyone in the world!). We also had high-altitude clouds filled with ice crystals, the source of the “ring around the Moon” effect. This is a lunar halo, created by moonlight shining through six-sided ice crystals. This halo exhibits rainbow-like colours as well.

But this night, conditions were also ideal for seeing the contrails from jets flying overhead on polar routes from Europe to North America. In the main image above, you can see the jet departing to the west at lower right. Its high-altitude contrail is casting a dark shadow onto the lower cloud deck.

Lunar Halo & Contrail from CNSC Dome (Feb 9, 2014)

This view, taken earlier in the evening shows a more pronounced lunar halo with a horizon-to-horizon contrail shooting straight across the Moon and also casting a shadow.

I used an 8mm fish-eye lens to capture this 360° image of the entire sky. I was able to shoot this image in shirt-sleeve comfort through the rooftop plexiglas viewing dome at the Centre.

Lunar Halo & Winter Sky over the Rocket Range

In this image, taken outside at -25° C, the sky is clearer but still contains enough ice crystal cloud to create a bright lunar halo. When I took this image on February 9 the Moon was to the right of bright star-like Jupiter, and in the middle of the winter stars and constellations, such as Orion just below the Moon.

Lunar haloes can be seen at any season. On any night with a nearly Full Moon embedded in high haze, look up!

– Alan, February 13, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Waves of Northern Lights in Time-Lapse


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Fisheye #3)

Watch waves of aurora wash over the sky rising out of the west to swirl overhead.

This was the spectacle we saw Friday night at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, as the northern lights filled our sky. I set up my camera on the east side of the main building, out of the bitterly cold west wind. The fish-eye lens is aimed west but its view takes in most of the sky.

The bright object at lower left is the Moon.

The still image above is a frame from the 349-frame time-lapse movie below.

Each frame is a 7-second exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 1250. The interval is 1 second.

The movie covers about 45 minutes of time, compressed into 30 seconds. It shows the aurora peaking in intensity, then fading out behind the ever-present thin cloud drifting through all night.

What amazes me are the waves and loops of auroral curtains that come at us from the west (bottom behind the building) then swirl around the zenith overhead. They move off to the east and north at the top of the frame.

Even watching this in real-time the scene was astonishing. The curtains rippled so quickly, forming and reforming over the sky, you didn’t know where to look. As the image above shows, people just stood amazed.

— Alan, February 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

P.S.: You can view a better-grade version of the movie at my Flickr site.

Aurora Shining Through the Clouds


Churchill Aurora Feb 2-3, 2014

Tonight the aurora shone so brightly for a time it was visible through the cloud.

Here at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we’ve been battling clouds all week. But on several nights the clouds have cleared for 30 minutes or more, enough to give us glimpses of the aurora and stars. Tonight, February 2/3, the clouds never did clear away enough for a great view. This was as good as it got, with the Northern Lights shining through haze and cloud but nevertheless filling the sky.

Remarkably, this was on a night when the usual indicators of auroral activity were registering all quiet. This shows the benefit of traveling north to stand right under the auroral oval, the zone of maximum activity. In this case I’m at 58° North, in Churchill, Manitoba. Even on a quiet night the Churchill sky can be filled with curtains of dancing colours.

– Alan, February 3, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Horizon to Horizon Milky Way


The view doesn’t get any wider than this. This fish-eye image takes in the entire night sky and summer Milky Way.

I shot this last weekend at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party in Cypress Hills. Red lights of observers streak along the horizon around the perimeter of the circular image. At centre is the zenith, the point in the sky straight overhead.

The sky was very dark, but the sky close to the horizon is tinted with the faint glows of aurora and airglow.

The Milky Way is the main feature of the summer sky, here stretching from Sagittarius in the south at bottom to Perseus at top in the north. Wide shots like this really put the giant lanes of dust into proper context; you can see their full structure and faint tendrils extending well off the Milky Way band.

For these fish-eye shots (suitable for projection in a planetarium) I used a Sigma 8mm fish-eye lens and a full-frame Canon 5D MkII camera. This is a stack of five 5-minute exposures, all tracked. The landscape is from just one of the images, to minimize blurring of the ground.

— Alan, August 23, 2012 / © 2012 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