Meteor Shower over the VLA


Raining Meteors over the VLA Dishes

Meteors from the Geminid shower rain over the dishes of the VLA radio telescope.

Sunday night was a prime night for the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the best of the year. To capture it, I traveled to the Plains of San Agustin in the high desert of New Mexico.

It’s there that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory operates the 27 dishes of the Very Large Array radio telescope, one of the most photogenic – and photographed – astronomical facilities in the world.

I set up at a viewing point near the entrance, to look northwest over the dishes, arrayed that night, and all season, in its most compact configuration, with all the dishes clustered closest together.

It was an active meteor shower! One particularly bright meteor left a persistent “train” – a smoke trail that lasted over 15 minutes. It creates the fuzzy cloud around the meteor at right. The bright bolide is on two frames, as the shutter closed then opened again as the meteor was still flying! So its bright streak got cut in two. Pity!

I shot with two cameras. The image here is from one, using a 35mm lens to shoot 334 frames over 3 hours. Each exposure was 32 seconds at f/2 and at ISO 3200.

I’ve taken about two dozen of the frames, the ones with meteors, and stacked them here, with the sky and ground coming from one frame. The camera was not tracking the sky.

Bands of natural airglow and clouds illuminated by the lights of Albuquerque to the north add colour to the sky.

I would have shot for longer than three hours, but this was a very cold night, with a brisk wind and temperatures below freezing. A snowstorm had even closed some roads the day before. Three hours was enough on the high plains of San Agustin this night.

— Alan, December 14, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Comets, Conjunctions, and Occultations, Oh My!


The Moon, Venus and Comet Catalina

What a morning of sky sights, both before dawn and after sunrise.

December 7 – This was the prime day I came to Arizona to enjoy, to be better assured of clear skies. As it turned out this will likely be the cloudiest day of the week here, but skies were clear enough for a fine view of a conjunction and an occultation. The comet was a bonus.

Waning Moon and Venus Rising in Conjunction
This is a stack of 5 exposures: 30, 8, 2, 0.5 and 1/8s, blended with luminosity masks as HDR would not blend images with such a large range of brightness and content, with the shortest exposures having almost no content execept for two bright objects! The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker to follow the sky and keep the sky targets stationary and aligned, thus the blurred foreground. All with the 135mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 6D at ISO 400.

At 4 a.m. the waning crescent Moon rose accompanied by Venus, as the two worlds appeared in close conjunction in the pre-dawn sky. The view above captures the scene as the Moon and Venus rose over the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico. Comet Catalina is in this scene but barely visible.

The Moon, Venus and Comet Catalina
This is a stack of 6 exposures: 30, 8, 2, 0.5, 1/8s and 1/30s, blended with luminosity masks as HDR would not blend images with such a large range of brightness and content, with the shortest exposures having almost no content execept for two bright objects! The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker to follow the sky and keep the sky targets stationary and aligned. All with the 135mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 6D at ISO 800.

An hour or so later, with the Moon and Venus higher and with skies a little less cloudy, I was able to capture this scene, above, that included Comet Catalina, as a tiny blue dot next to Venus and the Moon. But if I hadn’t labeled it, you wouldn’t know it was there! The comet is proving to be less wonderful than anticipated, and any cloud dims the view even more.

I had hoped for a superb scene of a bright comet next to the two brightest objects in the night sky. But comets do what comets do — surprise people with unexpected brightness (as Comet Lovejoy did last January) or with disappointing dimness … or by disappearing altogether, as Comet ISON did two years ago. I came here in December 2013, to this same location on the Arizona-New Mexico border, to catch ISON but no luck there at all!

Moon & Venus Conjunction at Sunrise (Dec 7, 2015)
This is a stack of 7 exposures from 10 seconds to 0.3 seconds at 1 stop intervals and blended with luminosity masks, to compress the huge range in brightness from the bright Moon and Venus, plus horizon sky, and the darker sky and sunrise clouds. All with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D.

Regardless of the comet, the conjunction of the Moon and Venus was stunning, about as good as such events get. Here’s the view, above, an hour later again, with the eastern sky brightening in the dawn twilight. The only thing that would have made this event even more spectacular is if the Moon had actually covered up Venus in this twilight sky. Not quite.

Daytime Occultation of Venus (Dec 7, 2015)
The occultation of Venus by the waning crescent Moon in the daytime on Monday, December 7 at 9:30 am local time. This is just about 3 minutes before the actual occultation as the advancing Moon is about to cover Venus on the bright limb of the Moon. This is a frame from a 100-frame time lapse. Unfortunately, as I shot this on my trip to Arizona, I did not have more focal length than the 135mm and 1.4x extender used here.

For the occultation itself, we had to wait until well after sunrise for an event in the blue daytime sky, at 9:30 a.m. local time.

All of North America got to see this fairly rare occultation of Venus by the Moon, albeit in the daytime. Nevertheless, the two objects are so bright, this was visible to the unaided eye, even with some cloud about. In binoculars it was wonderful.

To shoot it, all I had was a telephoto lens, so the image scale doesn’t do the event justice. But the image above provides a good impression of the binocular view, with Venus as a brilliant jewel on the “ring” of the Moon.

— Alan, December 7, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Ancient Solar Observatory at Fajada Butte


Sun over Fajada Butte at Chaco Canyon

Sunlight and shadows at Fajada Butte served to mark the seasons a thousand years ago.

In the distance is Fajada Butte at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It is one of the most famous sites in archaeoastronomy. A thousand years ago, people of the Chaco Culture used it to observe the Sun.

Fajada Butte at Chaco Canyon

At a site now off limits to preserve its integrity, a set of three rocks cast shadows and daggers of sunlight onto a carved spiral petroglyph.

Fajada Butte Sign At Chaco Canyon

People used the position of the projected beams of light as a calendar to mark time through the year. In truth, simply watching the changing position of the rising and setting Sun along the horizon, which was also done here at Chaco Canyon, would have worked just as well.

Fajada Butte Viewpoint at Chaco Canyon

I visited the site today, as part of a trek north through New Mexico, Arizona and into Utah. Chaco Canyon is one of the preeminent sites for archaeoastronomy, demonstrating how well people a thousand years ago (the site was occupied from the mid 800s to the mid 1100s) observed the sky.

For example, a half-day hike takes you to a famous pictograph on a rock face showing a bright star near the crescent Moon, a drawing some have interpreted as being an observation of the supernova of 1054 AD.

Grand Kiva at Chetro Ketl, Chaco Canyon

In its height, thousands of people lived in the pueblos at Chaco Canyon and surrounding area. This is the Great Kiva at the Chetro Ketl pueblo. Wood columns used to hold a wood roof over this structure to make a space for ceremony and ritual.

Iridescent Clouds at Chaco Canyon

I did a little solar observing myself while there. While walking through the maze of rooms at Pueblo Bonito I looked up to see iridescent clouds near the Sun, created by diffraction of sunlight from fine ice crystals.

Public Observatory at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

In keeping with the site’s astronomical heritage, the Visitor Centre at the Chaco Culture Historical Park has a well-equipped observatory with several top-class telescopes (a 25-inch Obsession Dobsonian among them) and an outdoor theatre for regular stargazing sessions each weekend. This is a world-class Dark Sky Preserve and a World Heritage Site.

– Alan, April 2, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer  / www.amazingsky.com

Nova Sagittarii Close-Up


Nova Sagittarii (March 28, 2015)

The nova star in Sagittarius has re-brightened. I captured it in a telephoto closeup.

Here is Nova Sagittarii – likely an exploding white dwarf star – as it appeared before dawn on the morning of March 28. This is the brightest nova visible from the northern hemisphere for many years, though even now it is barely naked eye at fifth magnitude.

After dimming for a few days the nova has re-brightened somewhat. What titanic forces are going on at this white dwarf star causing it to fade then brighten remain to be determined.

It will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. With luck it might really get bright!

This telephoto image frames the “Teapot” configuration of stars that forms the main part of Sagittarius the Archer. The nova has appeared from out of nowhere in the middle of the Teapot just below the lid!

The image is a stack of 4 x 90-second exposures, plus an exposure taken through a Kenko Softon A filter to add the star glows, to accentuate the brighter stars. I shot this from the backyard in New Mexico.

– Alan, March 28, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moon and Venus at the Place of the Mountain Gods


Moon and Venus Meet Over Pond

The Moon meets Venus over a New Mexico pond in the heart of the Apache homelands.

This was the scene on Sunday evening, March 22, 2015, as the waxing crescent Moon appeared near Venus in one of the best conjunctions of the spring.

Earthshine lights the dark side of the Moon, while Mars also appears, below the Moon-Venus pair.

For these images I set up on the picturesque grounds of a resort called the Inn of the Mountain Gods, near Ruidoso, New Mexico, a ski resort in winter and a cool mountain retreat in summer.

The resort, run by and on land owned by the Mescalero Apache, honours the spirits of the four sacred mountains on Apache land: Sierra Blanca, Guadalupe Mountains, Three Sisters Mountain and Oscura Mountain Peak.

As the resort brochure states, “These four mountains represent the direction of everyday life for our Apache people. Our grandparents would often speak of the place called White Mountain. It was there that the creator gave us life and it is a special place.”

Moon & Venus Conjunction Over Pond #2

I shot this image a little later in the evening when the sky was darker, stars were beginning to appear, and thin clouds added haloes around the waxing Moon and Venus. I think the clouds added a photogenic touch.

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

The Waning Moon of Morning


Waning Moon in the Morning Sky

The waning crescent Moon shines with sunlight and Earthlight in the morning sky.

This was the Moon before dawn this morning, March 16, 2015. It’s the waning crescent Moon four days before the New Moon of March 20, when the Moon will eclipse the Sun.

This view shows the sunlit crescent and the dark side of the Moon also lit by sunlight, but sunlight reflecting off the Earth first. The night side of the Moon is lit by blue Earthshine.

To record details in both the bright and dark sides of the Moon I shot six exposures, from 1/160th second to 6 seconds, combining them in a high-dynamic range stack with Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw for the tone-mapping.

I shot it through my 92mm refractor, shown here in a beauty shot from the evening before.

TMB Refractor & Mach1 Mount

The upcoming solar eclipse by the Moon is visible as a partial eclipse from much of northern Europe (but not from North America, except from a teenie bit of Newfoundland), and as a total eclipse from a path running up the North Atlantic.

The only landfall for the total eclipse path are the Faroe Islands and the Arctic island of Svalbard.

For more details about the eclipse see The Great American Eclipse

I’ll be missing this eclipse, the first total solar eclipse I’ve chosen to sit out since 1995, 20 years ago. My next total solar eclipse will be August 21, 2017. At least, that’s the plan!

Clear skies to all my eclipse chasing friends, on land, on the sea, and in the air on Friday morning.

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

The Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky


Ghostly Glows of a Truly Dark Sky

A truly dark sky isn’t dark. It is filled with glows both subtle and spectacular.

Last night, March 10, I drove up into the heart of the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico, to a viewpoint at 7,900 feet in altitude. I was in search of the darkest skies in the area. I found them! There was not a light in sight.

The featured image is a 180° panorama showing:

– the Zodiacal Light (at right in the west)
– the Milky Way (up from the centre, in the south, to the upper right)
– the Zodiacal Band (faintly visible running from right to left across the frame at top)
– the Gegenschein (a brightening of the Zodiacal Band at left of frame, in the east in Leo)

The Zodiacal Light, Zodiacal Band, and the Gegenschein are all part of the same phenomenon, glows along the ecliptic path – the plane of the solar system – caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary and meteoric dust in the inner solar system.

The Gegenschein, or “counterglow,” can be seen with the naked eye as a large and diffuse brightening of the sky at the spot exactly opposite the Sun. It is caused by sunlight reflecting directly back from comet dust, the scattering effect greatest at the point opposite the Sun.

The Zodiacal Light requires reasonably dark skies to see, but the fainter Zodiacal Band and Gegenschein require very dark skies.

Now is prime season for all of them, with the Moon out of the way, and the Zodiacal Light angled up high in the western as twilight ends. In March, the Gegenschein is now located in a relatively blank area of sky in southern Leo.

The Milky Way is much more obvious. Along the northern winter Milky Way here you can see dark lanes of interstellar dust, particularly in Taurus above and to the right of Orion. Red nebulas of glowing gas also lie along the Milky Way, such as Barnard’s Loop around Orion.

– Orion is at centre, in the south, with Canis Major and the bright star Sirius below and to the left of Orion. Canopus is just setting on the southern horizon at centre. It barely clears the horizon from 32° North latitude.

– To the right of Orion is Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster at the top of the Zodiacal Light pyramid.

– Venus is the bright object in the Zodiacal Light at right, in the west, while fainter Mars is below Venus.

– At far right, in the northwest, is the Andromeda Galaxy, M31.

– Jupiter is the bright object at upper left, in the east, in the Zodiacal Band, and near the Beehive star cluster.

– The Zodiacal Light, Band and Gegenschein all lie along the ecliptic, as do Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Glows on the horizon are from distant SIlver City, Las Cruces and El Paso. The brighter sky at right is from the last vestiges of evening twilight. Some green and red airglow bands also permeate the sky.

Standing Under the Milky Way
I shot this March 10, 2015 from the summit of Highway 15, The Trail of the Mountain Spirits, that twists and winds through the Gila Wilderness.

It was a stunning night, clear, calm, and silent. Just me under the ghostly glows of a truly dark sky.

NOTE: I first published this March 11 but had to republish this blog March 15 after WordPress deleted the original post in a software bug. Thanks WordPress! 

– Alan, March 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / http://www.amazingsky.newt

 

Lasers at Lovejoy


Lasers Converging on Comet Lovejoy

Laser beams point out Comet Lovejoy at a public star party at City of Rocks State Park.

It was a perfect night last night for public stargazing. I headed out to the State Park for the monthly star party, held at the Orion group campground (with Orion nicely placed in the sky above) and home to a fine public observatory.

Stargazing at the City of Rocks State Park Observatory

The Gene and Elizabeth Simon Observatory features a Meade 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope which gave great views of Jupiter with one of its moons, Callisto, in transit as a dark dot on the face of the planet.

Stargazing under Desert Skies

About 70 people turned out, from the Park’s campground and from the nearby communities. Here Matt starts the night with a laser guided tour of the constellations. These bright lasers are wonderful for public events like this but when in the wrong hands they can be dangerous.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has issued guidelines for their use. Check their webpage for more details.

Stargazing at City of Rocks State Park, NM

Another technical innovation popular at the City of Rocks Star Parties is an iPad running Sky Safari software, and on a tripod with handles so people can move it about the sky to identify stars and constellations for themselves. It works great. Here, I pose with it for a staged photo, with the Big Dipper in the background.

Observatory Telescope at City of Rocks State Park

Here I pose with the Observatory’s 14-inch telescope.

In all, it was a superb night at surely one of the finest places on the planet for public stargazing. I recommended to the Park officials that they should apply for official Dark Sky Preserve status. They would qualify without question.

Clear skies!

– Alan, March 15, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Rising of the Snow Moon & Jupiter


Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #1

Tonight the Full Moon rose paired with Jupiter, in the colourful twilight over Silver City, New Mexico.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scouted out the location last night for the shoot tonight, February 3.

I drove west of Silver City to a viewpoint on Boston Hill overlooking the town east to the rising Moon.

The Full Moon of February has come to be called the “Snow Moon,” appropriate for many parts of the continent now enduring record snowfalls. But here, we enjoyed summer-like temperatures and a decided lack of snow.

The Moon rose into a clear sky accompanied by Jupiter, now 4 days before its annual opposition date. At opposition we pass between the Sun and an outer planet, in this case Jupiter. This puts Jupiter opposite the Sun, so it rises as the Sun sets.

The Full Moon also always lies opposite the Sun, so tonight the Full Moon joined Jupiter in the sky.

Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #2

To capture the scene I shot several panoramas, each consisting of several segments, to take in the broad sweep of the horizon. The scene above records the pink “Belt of Venus,” created by sunlight lighting the upper atmosphere to the east in the half hour or so after sunset down here on Earth.

Full Snow Moon over Silver City Panorama #3

Once the sky got darker, Jupiter stood out better, shining to the left of the Moon.

Jupiter is now also closest to Earth and brightest for 2015. It will dominate our eastern sky for the rest of the winter and early spring, eventually shining to the south as night falls in late spring.

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

The Old Hearst Church in Moonlight


The Big Dipper over Hearst Church

The Big Dipper and the Pole Star shine above the moonlit historic Hearst Church.

Tuesday was a productive evening of shooting in the moonlight. One of the best from the night pictures the Hearst Church in the rustic town of Pinos Altos in the Gila Forest of southern New Mexico.

The Big Dipper stars shine at right, with the Pointer stars in the Bowl aiming at Polaris above the Church. Illumination is from a waxing quarter Moon and from some decorative lights in the yard next door across the street.

The Hearst Church was opened in May 1898 and indeed is named for the famous Hearst family. Money to build the church was raised by the local mining families with a major donation from Phoebe Hearst, wife of the mining magnate and senator George Hearst. Phoebe was also mother to newspaper tychoon William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Orson Welles’ movie Citizen Kane. Gold that decorates Hearst’s mansion in California came from the family mine near Pinos Altos.

As the mining boom went bust the Methodist church lost its pastor then its congregation. It is now an art gallery and home to the Grant County Art Guild. See their website for details on the historic church.

While I know many of my blog’s followers enjoy the photos for their own sake, lots of folks also like to learn more about the technical aspects of the images.

So with this blog, and selected others in future, I’ll present a bit more of the “how-to” information.


How the Image Was Shot and Processed

Taking the image could not have been simpler. It is a single 45-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 24mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 800, on a static tripod, about as basic as you get for nightscape shooting. There is no fancy stacking or compositing.

The trick is still in the processing, however. Here is a breakdown of the Photoshop CC 2014 file and its various layers. Every aspect of the processing is non-destructive. No pixels were ever harmed in the process. Every adjustment can be tweaked and modified after the fact.

Heart Church Processing Layers

< Star spikes top layer added with “Astronomy Tools” actions from Noel Carboni.

< Sharpening layer created from stamping the final layers into one layer using the Command-Option-Shift-E command, then a High Pass filter applied, blended with Soft Light and masked to sharpen just the ground.

< Adjustment layers for colour, brightness & contrast, and levels, applied to the sky and ground separately with masks, created using Quick Selection Tool and Refine Edge.

< A Clone & Heal layer for wiping out the power lines & power pole, using the Patch & Spot Healing Tools.

< The base image, opened from the developed Raw file as a Smart Object, with noise reduction and sharpening applied as Smart Filters.

I know this won’t explain all the processing steps but I hope it provides some idea of what goes into a nightscape.

All this and much more will be explained in an upcoming half-day “Photoshop for Astronomy” Workshop I’m presenting Saturday, May 9. If you are in the Calgary, Alberta area, consider joining us. For details and to register, see the All-Star Telescope web page

Also, my ebook featured below has all the details on shooting and processing images like these.

Clear skies and happy shooting!

— Alan, January 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Moon, Mercury and Venus in Conjunction


Moon, Mercury & Venus Conjunction (Jan 21, 2015)

This was the scene on Wednesday night, as the waxing Moon formed a triangle with Mercury and Venus.

Skies cleared nicely this evening, providing a beautiful view and photogenic scene of the inner planets near the waxing Moon.

On January 21 the crescent Moon appeared with Venus (at left) and Mercury (below), and with the trio above the lights of Silver City, New Mexico.

Compare this view of reality with the graphic from my blog of a few days ago, and with a similar scene a month earlier with the Moon closer to Venus but with no Mercury.

With the Moon now returning to the sky, sighting Comet Lovejoy will become more difficult.

On Thursday night, January 22, the Moon will be higher and shine near Mars.

Happy viewing!

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

Lovejoy Passes the Pleiades


Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades (Jan 18, 2015)

Tonight Comet Lovejoy paired with the Pleiades star cluster.

Sunday, January 18 was the night to catch the ever-photogenic Comet Lovejoy at its best and closest to the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. Its long blue ion tail stretched back past the Pleiades.

I thought the tail would be passing right over the star cluster, but not so. At least not when I was shooting it at about 7:30 pm MST.

Still, the combination made a fine pairing of cosmic blue objects for the camera. The top image is with a 135mm telephoto.

Comet Lovejoy in the Winter Sky (Jan 18, 2015)

This wide-angle image, with a 24mm lens, takes in many of the northern winter constellations, from Orion at bottom, to Auriga at top, with Taurus in the middle. Notice the dark tendrils of the Taurus Dark Clouds.

At right, beside the Pleiades, is the green and blue comet, with its tail reaching back past the Pleiades.

I shot both images from the dark skies of City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico, which has proven to be one of the finest places on the planet for watching Lovejoy!

– Alan, January 18, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Night of the Comet


Comet Lovejoy's Long Ion Tail in Taurus

What a beautifully photogenic comet Lovejoy is proving to be! 

On Friday, January 16, I caught Comet Lovejoy crossing the ecliptic as it travels through Taurus. The long exposure above shows it amid the star clusters, nebulas, and dark clouds of Taurus and Perseus.

The blue Pleiades is at centre, and the red California Nebula is at top. Throughout are the dark tendrils of the dusty Taurus Dark Clouds.

The long blue ion tail of Lovejoy now extends back 15° to 20° on photos and is easy to trace for half that distance in binoculars in a dark sky.

I turned the top photo 90° to orient the comet so it points “down.”

Comet Lovejoy Nightscape (Jan 16, 2015)

However, this wide-angle nightscape shows the real orientation of the comet, high in the sky above Orion, here rising over the rock formations of City of Rocks State Park, my favourite dark sky site in this area of New Mexico.

Comet Lovejoy Crossing the Ecliptic (Jan 16, 2015)

Taken earlier in the evening, this ultra-wide image shows the comet at top, with its blue tail oriented along the ecliptic and aligned with the Zodiacal Light, from the glow of sunlight reflecting off comet dust in the inner solar system.

The Zodiacal Light follows the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system and where we find the planets, such as Mars and Venus at bottom here. The comet seems to point toward the Sun, now below the horizon here at the base of the Zodiacal Light. That’s just as it should be! Comet gas tails always point away from the Sun, as they are blown away from the comet’s head by the solar wind.

This night Comet Lovejoy was crossing the ecliptic, as its orbit continues to take it north in a path almost perpendicular to the ecliptic. While planets orbit in the ecliptic plane, most comets do not. They can have orbits oriented at all kinds of angles off the ecliptic plane.

But on January 16 Comet Lovejoy crossed the ecliptic, placing it at the apex of the Zodiacal Light.

Comet Lovejoy & Zodiacal Light (Jan 16, 2015)

This wider view takes in the Zodiacal Light, the comet and Orion rising at left.

This was a marvellous “night of the comet.”

— Alan, January 17, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

A Stunning Sky of Subtle Glows


Zodiacal Light Panorama (Circular)

What a fabulous night! The desert sky was full of subtle glows and myriad stars.

Friday, January 16 was a stunning evening for stargazing. I took the opportunity to shoot a 360° panorama of the evening sky, recording a host of subtle glows.

The Zodiacal Light reaches up from the western horizon and the last vestiges of evening twilight. This is the glow of sunlight reflecting off cometary dust particles in the inner solar system. From the clear desert skies it is brilliant.

The dark of the Moon periods in January, February and March are the best times of the year to see the evening Zodiacal Light from the northern hemisphere.

The Milky Way arches across the eastern sky from Cygnus to Canis Major. That’s light from billions of stars in our Galaxy.

At centre, in the circular fish-eye image above, is the small wisp of green Comet Lovejoy, near the zenith overhead and appearing at the apex of the Zodiacal Light’s tapering pyramid of light.

Zodiacal Light Panorama (Rectilinear)

This view is from the same images used to create the circular all-sky scene at top, but projected in a rectangular 360° format.

Technical notes:

I shot 8 segments for the panorama, each a 1-minute exposure at f/2.8 with a 15mm lens oriented in portrait mode, and using a Canon 6D at ISO 3200. There was no tracking – the camera was just on a tripod. Each segment is 45° apart.

I used PTGui software to stitch the segments into one seamless scene.

— Alan, January 16, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Shooting the Inner Planet Pairing


Mercury & Venus in Close Conjunction (Jan. 10, 2015)

Here is the Mercury-Venus conjunction for real, from Saturday night.

In my last post I described the upcoming weekend conjunction of Mercury near Venus. Well, here’s the real thing, in shots from Saturday night, January 10.

Mercury is the dimmer of the two objects in the colourful evening twilight in the enchanted skies of New Mexico.

The top photo is a “normal” lens view of the scene. The photo below zooms in on the pair with a telephoto lens.

Mercury & Venus Conjunction Closeup (Jan. 10, 2015)

Mercury is nearing its greatest angle away from the Sun and will remain near Venus for the next week. So if skies are clear in the early evening, take a look. Mercury is very easy to sight with unaided eyes. If you have not seen the innermost planet, this is a good chance to check it off your “to see” list.

A fact to keep in mind: both planets have probes orbiting them, but both are nearing the end of their missions. Europe’s Venus Express has ended its mission and is about to make its final plunge into the dense Venusian atmosphere.

At Mercury, NASA’s Messenger probe has gained a small reprieve, with it now expecting to impact on Mercury at the end of April, a month later than expected.

— Alan, January 10, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Catching A Comet


Comet Lovejoy Through a Telescope

Tonight I caught a close-up of the green head and blue tail of Comet Lovejoy.

Clear skies tonight, Tuesday, January 6, allowed me to shoot Comet Lovejoy from home using a telescope and guiding system for a close-up view. I had just over half an hour of darkness between end of twilight at 6:30 and moonrise at 7:15 but that’s all I needed to grab several guided exposures.

This telescopic shot takes in a field of about 5 by 3 degrees, a little smaller than what most binoculars would show.

The image is a stack of four 2-minute exposures with the telescope guiding on the fast-moving comet. Comet Lovejoy is now at its closest point to Earth and moving fairly rapidly across the sky. So I guided on the comet, letting the stars trail slightly over the 8 minutes of exposure time.

The head of the comet glows bright green in photos, from glowing diatomic carbon, while the tail glows blue from other ionized gases streaming away from the head, or coma. The source of it all is a tiny icy nucleus completely hidden from view amid the glowing gases.

Comet Lovejoy was easy in binoculars, which showed a bare hint of the tail in dark skies. I could see the comet naked eye, but only by knowing just where to look. It appeared as a slightly fuzzy star, but unless you knew what you were looking at you wouldn’t know it was comet. This is a binocular comet for dark skies. But a very nice binocular comet.

– Alan, January 6, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

Comet on the Rocks


Orion & Comet Lovejoy over City of Rocks

Comet Lovejoy glows above the granite spires of City of Rocks State Park. 

With clouds forecast for the rest of the week I made the best of it tonight and headed out to my favourite local spot for nightscape images, the City of Rocks State Park on Highway 180 between Silver City and Deming, New Mexico.

It was a quick photo session tonight. I arrived at just the right time to catch the comet and Orion rising behind the rock formations, with the moonlight beginning to illuminate the rocky rims.

The comet is the small green spot just right of centre at the top. It is now climbing quite high in the southern sky as it comes up north. I could see it easily in binoculars as a large fuzzy spot and I thought I could just make it out with unaided eyes once I knew just where to look.

This will be a fine comet for binoculars once the Moon gets out of the way later this week, though you will need to be at a dark site. The comet is diffuse and will be utterly washed out by city lights. This is no Hale-Bopp! But as comets go, Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 is a nice one.

— Alan, January 5, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

Comet Lovejoy in the Moonlight


Orion and Comet Lovejoy in Moonlight #2

Sunday night, January 4, proved stunningly clear, ideal for seeing and shooting Comet Lovejoy in the moonlight.

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is moving rapidly north and this week sits just west of Orion. To capture it tonight I went out to the City of Rocks State Park, seeking a scenic foreground, with Orion rising with the comet.

The Full Moon is just off frame at left, unavoidably glaring into the frame.

Comet Lovejoy appears as a small green fuzzy spot at upper right.

Orion and Comet Lovejoy in Moonlight #1

In this view I had to crop Orion in order to fit in the landscape and the comet, at upper right. Three short aircraft contrails appear at the bottom. The Full Moon illuminates the southern New Mexico landscape.

In the coming week, with the Moon rising later each night, and the comet climbing higher, it will become much easier to see in a dark sky.

However, while Comet Lovejoy might be technically visible to the unaided eye, you really need binoculars to pick it out. We’ll see if it sports much of a tail once we sight it again in a dark moonless sky.

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

Comet and Cluster


Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) on Dec 27, 2014

Comet Lovejoy passes near the globular cluster M79 in this image from Saturday, December 27. 

Here is the comet that is making the news, as it comes into view in northern skies, now sporting a decent tail of gas streaming away from its cyan-coloured head.

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is proving to be a fine photogenic comet and an easy target for binoculars. Visually it still looks like a large fuzzy star, though I could spy a sign of a faint tail on Saturday night, at least through binoculars.

This weekend it passed the small, faint globular cluster Messier 79, seen here at upper right. It was very close to M79 Sunday night, but alas, clouds blew in, obscuring the view from here in New Mexico.

The Moon is now in the sky with the comet, leaving no dark sky time to see the comet after moonset. That will be the case for another two weeks or so. But by mid January the Moon will be gone and the comet will be much higher in the sky, moving up through Taurus.

From a dark site, it may be easily visible to the naked eye at that time, a surprising bonus for the winter, as this comet was never expected to get this bright.

Thank you, Terry Lovejoy, for finding your comets in Australia and sending them our way!

– Alan, December 28 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Both Sides of the Boxing Day Moon


Crescent Moon with Earthshine (Dec 26, 2014)

The dark and bright side of the Moon appear together in a portrait of the 5-day Moon.

This was the waxing crescent Moon on Friday, December 26 – Boxing Day.

In this image you can see both the bright crescent directly lit by the Sun, and details in the dark side of the Moon lit only by sunlight reflected off Earth – Earthshine.

I used a composite of 5 exposures from 8 seconds to 1/50 second to capture both sides of the Moon, with the images merged in Photoshop’s HDRPro module.

I shot the images through my TMB 92mm apo refractor using the Canon 60Da camera, on a very clear night in New Mexico.

Happy Boxing Day to all!

– Alan, December 26, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

The Christmas Eve Sky


Christmas Eve at City of Rocks Panorama

This was the sky on the night before Christmas, with the Moon setting and Orion rising.

It was a crisp and calm night on Christmas Eve, with the waxing Moon shining beside Mars in the west at right. The western sky was marked by the faint tower of light called the Zodiacal Lights. To the east at left, Orion was rising beside the Milky Way.

The main image is a 180° panorama taken at the City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, New Mexico, and a particularly photogenic site for nightscape images.

Christmas Eve Moon in Twilight

This was the scene earlier in the evening with the Moon beside Mars, and the pair well above Venus down in the twilight, all framed by one of the park’s windmills.

Orion Rising at City of Rocks (Xmas Eve 2014)

Here is a close-up of Orion climbing over the rock formations in the state park. This is a single exposure with the foreground lit by the waxing crescent Moon.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

– Alan, December 24, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

A Comet for Christmas


Comet Lovejoy (C/2104 Q2) on Dec 23, 2014

Comet Lovejoy has migrated from the southern sky to appear in our northern sky for the holiday season.

This was Comet Lovejoy, aka C/2014 Q2, as it appeared on Tuesday night, December 23. It was low in the south well below Orion in the constellation of Columba the dove. It was easy to see in binoculars as a 5th magnitude fuzzy star. My long exposure photo reveals its thin blue ion tail.

I could just see the comet naked eye, knowing exactly where to look. However, I’m at 32° North latitude, placing the comet now decently high in my New Mexico sky.

The comet was discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy last August when the comet was way down under in the southern sky. But it is now moving rapidly north and brightening, bringing northern observers a binocular comet for the holidays.

However, the Moon is now coming up and will interfere with viewing later in the week. However, in mid-January Comet Lovejoy will be very high in the sky as its moves through Taurus, with the Moon out of the way.

By then the comet may be brighter and a naked eye object from dark sites. But don’t expect it to be anything more than a fuzzy star. This comet never gets close to the Sun, so isn’t likely to grow a bright dust tail.

For more details see the SkyNews magazine web page.

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

Venus and a Silvery Moon over Silver City


Thin Moon and Venus (Dec 22, 2014)

The thin Moon and Venus hang over the lights of Silver City, New Mexico.

Tonight, December 22, the 24-hour-old crescent Moon shone a binocular field to the right of brilliant Venus. I caught both hanging in the sky over downtown Silver City, set in stunningly clear twilight.

Venus is just beginning what promises to be a spectacular evening appearance in the western sky over the next few months, as it climbs higher.

The Moon, on its shorter cycle around the sky, is emerging into the evening sky for the end-of-year holidays. Watch it wax into a quarter Moon, then to Full, over the next two weeks. Tonight, the glow of Earthshine was prominent lighting the dark side of the Moon.

I shot this from east of the city, using a 135mm telephoto on my Canon 60Da camera.

Happy holidays to all!

– Alan, December 22, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Lone Geminid Meteor


Lone Geminid Meteor (Dec 12, 2014)

A lone meteor streaks away from the constellation of Gemini, part of the annual Geminid meteor shower.

Once again, as I did last month for the Leonid shower, I set up two cameras firing away hundreds of frames in hope that some would record a few meteors from the annual Geminid shower now going on.

I took about 700 frames, but only this one picked up a meteor. Clouds did intervene for a while – that’s when the brightest meteors would have appeared I’m sure. I observed from my front patio for a while and saw several Geminids, including two beautifully bright ones. But of course, both were just outside the field of both cameras.

I shot the shower tonight, Friday, the night before the peak on Saturday, as the forecast calls for cloud for the rest of the weekend here in southern New Mexico.

So this may be my best shot of the 2014 Geminid meteors.

– Alan, December 12, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Ring Around the Moon


Halo Around the Moon (Dec 1, 2014)

Ice crystals create a ring of light around the waxing Moon.

Clouds have moved in this week in New Mexico but the advancing weather system also brought an atmosphere filled with high altitude ice crystals.

Earlier this week they created a lunar halo – a ring around the Moon. If you look closely you’ll see there are two rings. On the left and right sides (east and west) the halo splits into two. This is an effect of two haloes superimposed: the classic 22° halo and what’s called the “circumscribed halo” which changes shape and size depending on the altitude of the Sun or Moon.

In this case, the Moon was 62° up, and the appearance of the circumscribed halo exactly matches what computer simulations predict for this altitude.

See Les Cowley’s wonderful website on Atmospheric Optics and the page on the shape of the circumscribed halo.

The long 30-second exposure brought out the stars in the moonlit sky.

They say such haloes presage poor weather. This week that proved true as clouds and rain moved in.

– Alan, December 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Dark Side of the Moon in Twilight


Crescent Moon with Earthshine Amid Stars

The waxing crescent Moon shines amid the stars and deep blue twilight.

This was the scene last night, as the two-day-old Moon reappeared in the evening sky as a thin crescent.

The Moon looks full because most of the side facing us was brilliantly lit by Earthshine, sunlight reflected off the Earth and lighting the Moon. Here, only the thin crescent at right is directly lit by the Sun.

This was a particularly bright example of Earthshine, likely because so much of the northern part of the Earth is now covered with cloud and snow, making Earth even more reflective than it usually is.

To capture this scene through a telescope, I shot a set of high-dynamic-range exposures, from long to short, to capture the huge range in brightness from the dayside to the darkside of the Moon. The long exposure also captured the stars in the deep blue twilight of a clear New Mexico sky.

– Alan, November 25, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Stargazing under the Milky Way


Stargazing at City of Rocks State Park

What a wonderful night for stargazing under the Milky Way and amid the rock formations of southern New Mexico.

This was the scene last night, November 22, at a monthly stargazing session hosted by the City of Rocks State Park and the local Silver City Astronomy Club. You couldn’t ask for a better night … and site.

The Milky Way swept overhead, from Sagittarius setting in the west at left, to Taurus rising in the east at right. The faint glow of Zodiacal Light sweeps up from the last glow of western twilight to the left. Some faint green bands of airglow that only the camera can capture are also visible near the horizon.

Matt is doing a laser tour, following which the group convened to the beautiful roll-off roof observatory that houses a Meade 14-inch telescope. It was a fine evening indeed.

Technical notes:

The panorama, which spans about 300° (I cropped the edges a little from the full 360°) consists of 8 segments, shot at 45° spacings, with a 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8, for 1 minute untracked exposures for each frame at ISO 800 with the Canon 6D. I stitched the segments in PTGui software, but processed them in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

– Alan, November 23, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Seven Sisters in a Silver Braid


M45 Pleiades Star Cluster, the Seven Sisters“Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,

Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

These are the famous Seven Sisters, the Pleiades, caught two nights ago in New Mexico skies. This bright star cluster stands out easily to the unaided eye in the winter sky, shining in the shoulder of Taurus.

What the eye does not see is the “silver braid” – the dim dust that surrounds the Pleiades. The stars light the dust, causing it to shine blue near the stars. Farther out, the dust is much dimmer and glows with pale tints of cyan and red.

The dust clouds were once thought to be what was leftover from the formation of the stars, now estimated to have occurred about 100 million years ago. However, current theory suggests that the natal dust of the Pleiads would have long since dispersed.

Instead, the silvery braids of dust that surround the Seven Sisters are just nearby dust clouds in Taurus that the stars are passing through, and illuminating with their hot blue light.

The Pleiades, as familiar as they are – they have been mentioned in ancient texts and myths dating back thousand of years – remain a source of scientific controversy. Astronomers argue over their distance, with different methods providing different results. But the best recent measurement puts them 440 light years away.

Technical notes: This is a stack of 10 x 12 minute exposures at ISO 400 with the Canon 5D MkII camera and 92mm TMB refractor at f/4.4. I shot the images November 16 from near Silver City, New Mexico.

– Alan, November 18, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Soul of Cassiopeia


IC 1848, the Soul Nebula, in Cassiopeia

The Soul Nebula glows from within the constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen.

I shot this image last night, capturing an object prosaically known as IC 1848, but more popularly called the Soul Nebula.

It is often depicted framed with a companion nebula just “off camera” here to the right, called the Heart Nebula. Thus they are the Heart and Soul. Both shine on the eastern side of Cassiopeia the Queen.

Here I’m framing just the Soul, taking in some of the faint nebulosity to the left of the main nebula, including a tiny object called IC 289, a star-like planetary nebula at upper left.

I like this image for its variety of subtle colours, not only the reds and magentas in the bright nebula, but also in the dark sky around it from dim dust adding faint yellows, browns and even a touch of green.

The Soul Nebula lies 6,500 light years away in the Perseus Arm, the next spiral arm out from ours in the Milky Way. On northern autumn nights this region of the sky and Milky Way lies high overhead.

For the technically minded:

The image is a stack of 20 six-minute exposures, taken with a filter-modified Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 800. I was shooting through one of my favourite telescopes for deep-sky photography, the TMB (Thomas M. Back-designed) 92mm apo refractor, working at a fast f/4.4 using a Borg 0.85x field flattener and focal reducer.

I used one of Noel Carboni’s “Astronomy Tools” Photoshop actions to add the “diffraction spikes” on the stars. They are artificial (refractors don’t produce spikes on stars) but they add a photogenic touch to a rich starfield.

I shot this from the backyard of my New Mexico winter home.

– Alan, November 16, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Truly Interstellar


M26 Open Cluster and NGC 6712 Globular Cluster

We gaze into the interstellar depths of the Milky Way through uncountable stars.

In this telescopic scene we look toward the Scutum Starcloud, and next spiral arm in from ours as we gaze toward the core of the Galaxy.

The field is packed with stars, seemingly crowded together in interstellar space. In fact, light years of empty space separate the stars, even in crowded regions of the Milky Way like this.

Two dense clusters of stars stand out like islands in the sea of stars. At lower right is Messier 26, an open cluster made of a few dozen stars. Our young Sun probably belonged to a similar family of stars billions of years ago. M26 lies 5,200 light years away.

At upper left is a condensed spot of light, made of hundreds of thousands of density packed stars in the globular cluster known only as NGC 6712. Though much larger and denser than M26, NGC 6712 appears as a tiny spot because of its remoteness – 23,000 light years away, a good part of the distance toward the centre of the Galaxy.

Look carefully (and it may not be visible on screen) and you might see a small green smudge to the left of NGC 6712. That’s a “planetary nebula” called IC 1295. It’s the blown off atmosphere of an aging Sun-like star. It’s what our Sun will become billions of years from now.

At top is a vivid orange-red star, S Scuti, a giant pulsating star nearing the end of its life.

A truly interstellar scene.

– Alan, November 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Mars and M22


Mars and M22 Cluster

Mars shines near the globular star cluster Messier 22 in Sagittarius.

This week Mars has been passing near one of the brightest globular star clusters, M22. I caught the pair tonight, November 8, as they sank into the southwestern sky.

The two form a contrasting pair, with red Mars now 260 million kilometres away, far enough that its light takes 13 minutes to reach Earth. However, blue M22 lies so far away, toward the galactic core, that its light take 10,000 years to reach Earth.

Mars appeared closer to M22 earlier this week but tonight was the first night with a narrow window of dark sky between twilight and moonrise, allowing me to shoot the pair.

I shot the image through a telescope with a short focal length of 400mm, taking in a field of about 5 by 3 degrees, the field of high-power binoculars. The image is a stack of eight 2-minute exposures at f/4.5 with the TMB 92mm refractor and Canon 6D at ISO 800.

– Alan, November 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Sagittarius Setting over the City of Rocks


Moonlight on City of Rocks #3

Sagittarius, with Mars, set behind the granite pillars of City of Rocks State Park.

From home in Canada the summer constellation of Sagittarius is long gone by November. But here, from a latitude of 32° north, Sagittarius, now with Mars shining amid its “teapot” shape of stars, still shines in the southwest.

This was the scene last night in the early evening, as the Full Moon lit the rock formations at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park. Sagittarius is above the rocks at left. Some bright bits of the Milky Way just manage to appear in the clear, bright sky lit blue by moonlight.

Moonlight on City of Rocks #2

This view looks northwest, with the stars of the Big Dipper just clearing the rocks at right.

In two weeks, with the Moon gone from the sky, the local astronomy club hosts one of its monthly star parties at the Park, making use of the public observatory in the Park, near the “Orion” group campground area – all the campsites are named for constellations and stars.

This is a very sky-friendly Park.

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

New Mexico Moonrise


Moonrise at City of Rocks Panorama

The Full Moon rises with the blue arc of Earth’s shadow over a New Mexico landscape.

I’m now in New Mexico for the winter, enjoying the clear skies and mild temperatures. After a few days of settling into the winter home, tonight was my first venture out to take advantage of the skies and shoot some images.

Tonight was Full Moon, a month after the total lunar eclipse. I drove out to the City of Rocks State Park to capture the moonrise over the unique desert landscape.

The main image above captures the Full Moon sitting amid the dark blue arc of Earth’s shadow rising in the east projected onto Earth’s atmosphere. It is rimmed above with a pink band, the “Belt of Venus,” caused by red sunlight still illuminating the high atmosphere. The image is a 5-section panorama.

In the clear air of New Mexico the shadow and Belt of Venus really stand out.

Moonrise at City of Rocks

A few minutes later, with the Moon higher and sky darker, I trekked amid the unusual rock formations of the Park, to shoot the Moon amid an alien lunar landscape.

These two images are both “high dynamic range” stacks of 7 to 8 images, from short to long exposures, to capture the wide range of brightness in a twilight scene, from the dark foreground to the bright Moon.

Full Moon at City of Rocks

I’m looking forward to a productive winter, photographing the sky and writing about photo techniques, rather than shovelling snow!

– Alan, November 6, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Sunset at the City of Rocks


Sunset at the City of Rocks (May 2, 2014)

The Sun sets behind the desert landscape of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.

This is another shot from two nights ago, May 2, taken during my evening shoot at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park. I took this right at sunset, and you might be able to see the tiny crescent Moon in the twilight sky.

I used an ultra-wide 14mm lens and took a set of 7 exposures taken at 2/3rds stop intervals to capture the full range of brightness from brilliant Sun to shadowy landscape.

I stacked the exposures using Photoshop’s HDR Pro module and then “tone-mapped” the huge range of tonal values using Adobe Camera Raw in its 32 bit mode. This is an excellent way to process “HDR” images, compressing the huge range in brightness into one displayable image. I’ve used several HDR programs in the past but the new method of being able to use ACR, made available in recent updates to Photoshop CC, produces superb natural-looking results. I highly recommended it.

— Alan, May 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

Twilight over the City of Rocks


Evening Twilight over the City of Rocks

The waxing crescent Moon sets in deep twilight over the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.

This was the scene tonight, May 2, under fabulous skies on a warm spring evening in New Mexico. I drove 45 minutes south from Silver City to the City of Rocks State Park, and area of oddly-eroded rocks and a fabulous place for stargazing. It actually has an observatory.

For this twilight scene I shot a series of seven exposures from dark to bright with an ultra-wide 14mm lens, and stacked them in a high dynamic range composition to capture both the bright Moon and sky above and dark landscape below. You can see the stars of the winter sky disappearing into the evening twilight as well, plus Jupiter at top.

For the next three nights I’ll be back near the Arizona Sky Village just across the state line from Rodeo, New Mexico, under very dark skies, to shoot the summer Milky Way in the wee hours of the morning after moonset. The weather promises to be perfect.

— Alan, May 2, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

New Mexico New Moon


New Mexico New Moon (April 30, 2014)

The thin waxing crescent Moon returned to the evening sky tonight, seen here in the deepening blue of a New Mexico evening.

I’m in Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5900 feet) for a few days and nights, checking out places to spend next winter, under clearer and warmer skies than back home … and with rarely any snow to shovel.

This was the scene tonight, on the ranch road with one of the prime property choices – astronomers check real estate locations by day and night!

The crescent Moon is lit by Earthshine as it sits amid the deep blue twilight. The stars of Taurus show up flanking the Moon, with the Hyades at left and Pleiades at right.

This image is a high-dynamic range stack of 6 exposures from 2 to 20 seconds, to capture the ground detail without blowing out the Moon. Lights from an approaching pickup truck nicely lit the trees during the final longest exposure.

For the technically minded, I stacked the images using Photoshop CC HDR Pro, then “tone-mapped” them using Adobe Camera Raw in 32 bit mode.

Sunset from Silver City, New Mexico

The sky was hazy all day and evening, from wind-blown dust common to the area. Fierce southerly winds were whipping up dust all day, which hung in the sky all evening as well.

The sunset was a golden yellow from all the dust in the air. Once it got dark the sky lacked the ideal desert transparency, muting the zodiacal light I saw last night from the Chiricahuas.

Not every night is perfect in the high desert!

– Alan, April 30, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Geminid Meteors by Moonlight at the VLA


VLA by Moonlight with Geminid Meteor #1

A Geminid meteor in the moonlight streaks over a dish of the Very Large Array.

Tonight I was out at the VLA, the iconic radio telescope array on the high desert Plains of San Agustin in central New Mexico. Over three hours I shot 325 frames for a time-lapse movie, hoping that a few would “catch a falling star” or two.

Tonight was peak night for the annual Geminid meteor shower so the chances were better than normal. The Geminids are one of the best performing meteor showers of the year.

Despite the peak occurring in the evening, conditions weren’t ideal. Light from the gibbous Moon lit the landscape nicely but did wash out many meteors. Of course, I just wanted some bright ones anyway! Also, clouds drifted in and out all evening – mostly in!

At top, you can see a faint Geminid meteor shooting up from Gemini the twins, visible rising at lower right, with Jupiter (now in Gemini) marking the constellation’s location.

VLA by Moonlight with Geminid Meteor #2

In this image I moved the camera, but the array was also now pointed at a new target in the sky so the dishes were turned to look west. This shot captures another faint-ish Geminid streaking toward Orion, just right of centre.

I didn’t nab the grand and brilliant meteor I had hoped for but it was a wonderful moonlit evening under the stars, watching the dishes dance the night away.

– Alan, December 13, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Colours of Iridescent Clouds


Iridescent Clouds at White Sands #3

High clouds shimmer with iridescent colours near the Sun in an unusual display of atmospheric optics.

As I was getting ready to shoot the sunset at White Sands National Monument last evening, December 10, I looked up at the late afternoon Sun and saw it embedded in thin clouds tinted with iridescent colours. My dark sunglasses helped me see the phenomenon by eye, and underexposing the image helped me capture the colours by camera.

The effect is more common than you might think, but being so close to the blinding Sun iridescent clouds often go unnoticed. The almost metallic-looking colours are caused by clouds made of water droplets of such a uniform size they diffract the sunlight and spread the white light into a stunning range of colours.

Iridescent Clouds at White Sands #1

This image frames the scene in portrait mode. I took several images over the few minutes the effect lasted. But the clouds soon moved off or changed structure and the iridescence faded. Despite the Sun shining through similar looking thin clouds the next evening, December 11, I saw no such iridescence.

For more information see Les Cowley’s excellent page at his Atmospheric Optics website.

It’s just another example of the wonderful phenomena of light and colour that the sky can present to the watchful.

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

 

Sunset at White Sands


Sunset at White Sands, New Mexico (Dec 10, 2013)

The setting Sun sets the sky on fire above the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument.

A week ago I was at Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona for the sunset. This was the scene tonight, at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

I was on top of a sand dune at the Yucca picnic area on the Loop Road, watching an amazing sunset over the dunes. The clouds lit up on cue and Venus began to appear, visible here left of centre. The horizon was rimmed with a rainbow of twilight tints.

It was a cool evening, and driving on the unpaved Loop Road graded out of the white sand made me feel I was back home driving on a snow-covered back road. But the white stuff wasn’t snow but pure white gypsum.

This image is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) stack of seven exposures taken at 2/3rd stop increments and composited with Photomatix Pro. The technique brings out details in the shadowy landscape while preserving the bright sky. I used the 14mm Rokinon lens on the Canon 5D MkII. Final processing was in Photoshop CC.

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

 

Orion and Canis Major Rising


Sirius & Canis Major Rising from New Mexico (35mm)

Canis Major and Orion rise into the desert sky from southwest New Mexico.

We had an excellent week of observing at the Painted Pony Resort. We had cloud on parts of most nights, and frost on the calm nights and wind on the frostless nights. So viewing conditions weren’t ideal but they were way better than back home where temperatures plunged to -35° C at night and snow piled waist high.

The shot above is of Sirius and Canis Major, the hunting dog, rising into the early evening sky after the Moon had set.

Orion Rising over Adobe House v2 (New Mexico)

I took this image later in the week. It shows Orion rising above the main adobe house at the resort. His Belt points down to Sirius just coming up over the Peloncillo Mountains to the east. Moonlight provides the illumination and bands of airglow colour the sky.

All-Star Telescope is conducting another New Mexico Star Party next March, but most spaces are already filled. A couple of rooms may still be available in a newly renovated cottage off the main resort site. Check with Ken and Bev for details. I highly recommend the experience.

— Alan, December 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Skyglows Galore in the New Mexico Dawn


New Mexico Pre-Dawn Skyglow Panorama (Dec 2013)

A mix of sky glows fills the pre-dawn sky in New Mexico.

To the eye the sky looked dark, marred only by some high haze drifting through. But the camera reveals a sky filled with an amazing wealth of colourful glows.

I took this 360° panorama in the pre-dawn hours (4:45 a.m.) this morning (December 8) from the Painted Pony Resort in southwest New Mexico. It reveals a swath of green airglow to the north, the zodiacal light, and the Milky Way. At northern latitudes there was bright aurora visible last night. We might have seen some sign of it here in New Mexico in the form of increased airglow activity.

The panorama takes in, from left to right:
• Arcturus, shining like an ornament on the treetop
• the zodiacal light rising up from the east
• red Mars embedded in the zodiacal light below Leo
• the Milky Way from Puppis and Canis Major at left arching up and across the sky down into Perseus at right
• Sirius the brightest star
• Orion setting over the main house
• Jupiter, the bright object at top centre in Gemini
• Aldebaran and the Pleiades setting right of the main house in Taurus
• Polaris over the smaller house at right
• the Big Dipper at upper right pointing down to Polaris
• a green glow along the northern horizon above the smaller house that is likely intense airglow.
• green and red bands throughout the sky are airglow, caused by atmospheric molecules flourescing at night
• bands of high cloud also permeate the sky adding natural glows around the stars.

I stitched this panorama using PTGui software, from 6 segments, all tracked, taken with the 14mm Rokinon lens at f/2.8 for 2.5 minutes each and with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600.

As a postscript — this is blog post #401 from me.

– Alan, December 8, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Zodiacal Light and the Phantom Comet


Zodiacal Light at Dawn from New Mexico (Dec 2013)

The Zodiacal Light shines bright in the New Mexico dawn, near where the ill-fated Comet ISON would have been.

This was the dawn sky on the morning of December 6, 2013 looking east from our observing site at the Painted Pony Resort in New Mexico.

The zodiacal light was bright pre-dawn extending up from the horizon to high overhead. This glow is from sunlight reflected off comet dust in the inner solar system.

Adding to that cloud of dust is presumably the remains of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) – this image includes the position where ISON would have appeared had it survived, with its head left of centre, just left of the zodiacal light, and just above the mountain ridge. Its tail would have arched up and to the left, had it grown an extensive dust tail as was hoped.

As it is, there is a comet in the field – Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) is a tiny blue blip at far left, a minor consolation prize for missing ISON. Pity ISON didn’t work out, as we would have had two photogenic and naked eye comets in the dawn sky together.

The field also contains two planets: Mars in Leo above and right of centre, and Saturn in Libra just coming up over the mountains in the middle of the zodiacal light. Both lie in the zodiacal light because the light follows the ecliptic – i.e. the plane of the solar system and the orbits of the planets.

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

Enjoying Lovejoy, the Consolation Comet


Comet Lovejoy from New Mexico (Dec 6, 2013)

Comet Lovejoy shines above the New Mexico desert in the pre-dawn sky. 

We came here for Comet ISON but have had to settle for Comet Lovejoy, a decent enough comet in the morning sky, but not the spectacle we had hoped for.

This was Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) as it appeared this morning, December 6, under very good New Mexico skies marred only by some scattered clouds and patches of airglow. The main image is a 50mm lens shot of the wide scene looking east.

The comet was visible to the naked eye, but just barely as a fuzzy star. It took the long exposure photos to bring out its blue ion tail, stretching 6° to 10° across the sky and pointed down toward the sunrise point in the east.

Comet Lovejoy from New Mexico (Dec 6, 2013) 135mm

I took the close-up shot above with a 135mm telephoto lens showing the bright head and faint ion tail. The tail here measures 6° long, though a deeper exposure might have picked up more, up to 10° long. But I think reports of seeing a tail up to 5° long with the naked eye are wishful seeing. The comet and tail are not that obvious, and we are in superb skies.

Still, Lovejoy makes a fine comet consolation prize, substituting for the ill-fated Comet ISON. It was a beautiful morning to enjoy Lovejoy in the quiet and star-filled New Mexico dawn.

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

Adobe Moon and Venus


Crescent Moon & Venus Over Adobe House (Dec 5, 2013)

The waxing crescent Moon shines above Venus and our adobe house in New Mexico.

Tonight, December 5, the clouds cleared in time for us to catch a glimpse of the crescent Moon above Venus, now at its most brilliant for the year.

They shine above the main house at the Painted Pony Resort where I am this week for a stint of astrophotography with a dozen other Canadians escaping winter up north. But it’s cold here, too – it might go down to freezing tonight. Horrors!

For this shot I made liberal use of shadow and highlight recovery at the Adobe Camera Raw stage and in Photoshop to recover as much detail as I could in the overexposed Moon at top. However, the long exposure nicely brings out the stars in the moonlit sky. I also like the contrast of pastel colours.

– Alan, December 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Winter Sky Rising


Jupiter, Orion and Winter Sky Rising (24mm)

Jupiter and the stars of the winter sky rise in the east on a December night in New Mexico.

This was the scene last night, December 4, as clouds cleared away enough for great views of Orion and the winter sky rising above distant mountains in New Mexico. (All the clouds, that is, except for one annoying dark blob in Gemini above Jupiter!)

The bright object at lower left is Jupiter, in Gemini this winter, rising with Castor and Pollux to the left of Jupiter. To the right of frame Orion comes up on his side, with his Belt pointed down to where Sirius will come up shortly after I took this image. The red-sensitive camera picks up swirls of nebulosity around Orion.

Above Orion are the stars of Taurus and Auriga.

Milky Way in Perseus, Auriga and Taurus (24mm)

This image is a framing of the Milky Way from Perseus at top right down to Taurus and the top of Orion at bottom left. At centre is the blue Pleiades star cluster, and the red arc of the California Nebula. Also at centre you can see the long dusty tendrils of the Taurus Dark Clouds, interstellar clouds between us and the Perseus arm of the Milky Way.

I shot both from the Painted Pony Resort in southeast New Mexico using a little iOptron SkyTracker and 2.5- to 3-minute exposures with a filter-modified Canon 5D MkII.

— Alan, December 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Zodiacal Light & Light Pollution


Zodiacal Light & Light Pollution (New Mexico)

The subtle glow of zodiacal light competes with the artificial glow of light pollution.

This was the scene earlier this evening, December 4, from our dark sky retreat at the Painted Pony Resort in southeast New Mexico. In the distance the yellow glow of light pollution reflecting off the clouds comes from Douglas, Arizona.

Above, in the sky, you can see a subtle band of light reaching up and tipped slightly to the left. That’s the zodiacal light, caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary dust in the inner solar system.

At right is part of the summer Milky Way, setting into the west.

The clouds are orographic clouds hovering over the Chiricahua Mountains, where I was last evening shooting the sunset.

Our first night here has proven to be much better than we had expected, with scattered cloud but mostly clear skies. We’re here for another 4 nights. More is coming!

— Alan, December 4, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Ghostly Glow of Gegenschein


Gegenschein from New Mexico (14mm 5DII)

The band of light at right is the familiar Milky Way. But what’s that faint stream of light to the left? It’s called the Gegenschein.

My last blog showed an image of the Zodiacal Light in the west. In fact, that glow extends up and continues all the way across the sky as a very faint stream of light at the threshold of vision called the Zodiacal Band. But at the place in the sky 180° opposite the Sun the Band intensifies to become a diffuse patch of light. It’s easy to see with the naked eye from a dark site if you know to look for it, and where it is likely to be. Last week, it was sitting below the constellation of Leo, in an area of sky that is pretty blank. So any faint glow stands out.

As with Zodiacal Light, what you are seeing is sunlight reflected off comet and asteroidal dust, but for the Gegenschein (German for “counterglow”) the light is coming from dust opposite the Sun that is scattering light back toward us and the Sun, mirror-like. The back-scattering effect makes the dust appear a little brighter at the point opposite the Sun.

Spring is a good time to spot the Gegenschein (true for the northern or southern hemisphere) as it then lies in a sparse area of sky away from the Milky Way. But you need a moonless sky and a dark site free of manmade light pollution. It and the fainter Zodiacal Band are among the sky’s most subtle sights. Again, Atmospheric Optics has more details.

A bonus with this shot are some short streaks of light below and to the right of the Gegenschein. I think those are from geostationary satellites flaring at the anti-solar point as they, too, acted as mirrors briefly catching the sunlight. Being geostationary – likely communications satellites you aimed fixed dishes at – they stayed still while the stars and tracking camera moved, and so created streaks.

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

 

Comet PANSTARRS Over the VLA


Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA (March 17, 2013)

Comet PANSTARRS hovers in the twilight above the many moonlit dishes of the VLA radio telescope.

I shot this earlier this evening, on Sunday, March 17, on an evening trek out to the VLA (Very Large Array) near Socorro, New Mexico. Light from the nearly quarter Moon high in the sky illuminates the landscape and rims the 27 dishes of the VLA, the radio telescope that has starred in many movies over the years. The comet appears in deep twilight, here with the colours accentuated. Fortunately, the array was arranged in its most compact formation – at times the dishes can be spread out over many miles.

For this shot I took two exposures moments apart: one tracked for 25 seconds for the sky and comet to ensure pinpoint stars, and one untracked for 50 seconds for the ground, to ensure sharp ground detail. I combined them in Photoshop. I used the iPad app Photographer’s Ephemeris to seek out the location, on Highway 52, the public highway leading to the entrance road for the VLA. Lights from cars on the main Highway 60 across the high Plains of San Agustin streak at right.

The comet is becoming more photogenic as it climbs higher, despite the waxing Moon. A classic curving dust tail is now obvious in photos, though here I had the advantage of a very clear sky at a high altitude desert site. Viewing condition don’t get any better than this. Still, this comet will bear watching and shooting over the next month, no matter where you are in the northern hemisphere.

– Alan, March 17, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Magnificent Milky Way


Sagittarius & Scorpius Over Adobe House (35mm 5DII)

What an amazing area of sky – the centre of the Galaxy hovering over the Earth below.

This was the scene two mornings ago, on our last clear night in New Mexico. This is what’s in the morning sky now and in the evening sky later in July and August. This is the area around Scorpius and Sagittarius and their rich star clouds toward the centre of the Milky Way.

It looks like a scene from an alien planet. But it’s here on Earth, gazing thousands of lights years toward the galactic core.

Enjoy!

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

 

 

Orion and the Winter Triangle


Winter Triangle & Orion (35mm 5DII)

The Milky Way runs through the middle of the Winter Triangle, three of the bright stars of the northern winter sky.

At right is the familiar pattern of Orion the Hunter. But if you take his shoulder star, the orange-looking Betelgeuse, you can form an equilateral triangle with Sirius below centre and Procyon at upper left. The trio are sometimes called the Winter Triangle. The pattern seems obvious here but with so many other bright stars in the winter sky, I’ve never found the pattern too obvious. But in this image I’ve chosen to nicely centre and frame the Triangle.

I’ve also increased the contrast and saturation to emphasize the wealth of nebulosity that fills this area of the Milky Way. Streamers seem to reach out from Orion and connect to the reddish Seagull Nebula above Sirius, and also to the round Rosette Nebula above centre. The background sky west of the Milky Way under Orion is filled with a faint red glow, in contrast to the neutral black sky east (left) of the Milky Way.

I shot this last night, from New Mexico, on our last good clear night on a week-long observathon. This is a stack of 5 exposures, each 8 minutes long, plus two other exposures shot through a diffusion filter to add the glows around stars. I used a 35mm lens and a filter-modified Canon 5D MkII camera, riding on an iOptron Skytracker tracking platform.

– Alan, March 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Celestial Scorpion in the Desert


Scorpius over Adobe House (35mm 5DII)

This is one of the few constellations that looks like what it is supposed to be – a desert-dwelling scorpion.

This is Scorpius in his native habitat of the desert. Here, from the latitude of southern New Mexico, he is standing on end, his claws at top, his curving tail and stinger at bottom.

The bright yellow star is Antares, the heart of the scorpion, embedded in a colourful mix of magenta, yellow and blue nebulas. Scattered along the Milky Way in the tail of the scorpion you can see several magenta emission nebulas shining by the combined red and blue light of hydrogen atoms.

What I love about this area of sky is the lacework of dark foreground nebulas, and the contrast between the bright star clouds and dark lanes of stardust. At centre left is the Dark Horse, the darkest part of which also carries the name Pipe Nebula.

I shot this image this morning at about 5 a.m, in the hour before the sky brightened with dawn twilight. This is a stack of seven 3-minute exposures with a 35mm lens, including two exposures taken through a diffusion filter to add the accentuated star glows. The ground details come from just one of the exposures.

As it’s been all week, the location is the Painted Pony Resort in southwest New Mexico.

– Alan, March 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Arch of the Milky Way


New Mexico Milky Way Panorama

On March evenings the Milky Way arches overhead in a magnificent river of starlight.

This is the panoramic view we are getting every night this week at our astronomy retreat in New Mexico, as we gaze upwards to the northern winter Milky Way running across the sky from northwest to southeast, from Cassiopeia at right to Vela at left.

In the middle you can see the stars of Orion and his familiar Belt.

On March nights we are gazing outward, to objects farther out than we are from the centre of our Galaxy. This part of the Milky Way is dominated by stars and nebulas around the Orion complex several hundred light years away.

Above the main house a pillar of light rises from the western horizon and tapers out as it reaches the Milky Way high in the west. That’s the Zodiacal Light caused by sunlight reflecting off comet dust in the inner solar system. You need to be at a fairly dark site to see it, with no prominent urban sky glows to the west. But springtime is the best season for seeing the Zodiacal Light in the evening sky. From the latitude of New Mexico the Zodiacal Light rises almost straight up, perpendicular to the horizon. Here, Jupiter sits at the apex of the Zodiacal Light.

So this panorama includes the Earth, objects in our solar system (Jupiter and comet dust), and the distant stars and nebulas of the Milky Way Galaxy we live in.

For this scene I shot a panorama of 4 segments, each consisting of 2 images stacked for noise smoothing, and the segments stitched with Photoshop. Each frame was a 3-minute exposure with the Samyang 14mm lens at f/2.8. The camera was on a tracking platform, so it followed the sky during the 25 minutes or so it took for me to shoot the entire panorama. I reframed the camera between each segment to try to get the horizon and landscape horizontal and lined up as best I could from segment to segment.

The ground is from one frame out of each segment and is blurred slightly because the camera was tracking the sky. Despite shooting a moving target, Photoshop was still able to automatically assemble the frames into a seamless panorama that, in this case, covers about 250°. This was the first time I attempted such a tracked panorama. I was impressed that it worked!

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

 

A Comet and Earthlit Moon Amid the Stars


Comet PANSTARRS & the Moon (March 13, 2013)

This was the scene tonight, March 13, as Comet PANSTARRS set over the mountains in deep twilight, with the waxing Moon hanging overhead.

The small comet sits low in the orange glow of twilight, where the Moon was last night when it was down beside the comet. Tonight, a day later, the Moon appeared much higher in the sky as it waxes toward first quarter Moon in another few days. Tonight it was a crescent with most of the dark part of the lunar disk lit by Earthshine. I took this shot just before the comet set behind the mountains, to get the sky as dark as possible and the exposure longer to bring out some stars in the deepening blue of twilight.

I took this from the Painted Pony Resort in New Mexico where about 15 of us are gathered for a week-long star party and dusk to dawn “observathon.”

Indeed, I have to get back outside to continue shooting the Milky Way. It is another stunningly perfect night under New Mexico skies.

– Alan, March 13, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Night of the Comet on a Desert Highway


Comet PANSTARRS & the Moon in Twilight (March 12, 2013)

Sometimes the best sky experiences just happen spontaneously. This was one of them – a night of the comet on a desert highway.

This was the scene at our impromptu roadside star party last night, north of the Painted Pony Resort in southwest New Mexico. About a dozen of us, mostly Canadians, gathered at a highway pull off to watch the unforgettable sight of the waxing crescent Moon setting alongside Comet PANSTARRS. You can see the comet to the left of the Moon in the background wide-field image, more or less as it appeared to the naked eye. But the real treat was the view through binoculars and my own small 80mm telescope. The series of closeups with a telephoto lens captures that view.

It was amazing to watch the comet tail and dark side of the Moon setting together as the last bits to disappear behind the mountains. All the while the winter stars and Milky Way were appearing overhead in a perfect sky, all on a mild desert night. A stunning astronomical experience.

Thank you PANSTARRS!

– Alan, March 13, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Comet PANSTARRS in Twilight


 

Comet PANSTARRS C/2011 L4 (March 11, 2013)

This was Comet PANSTARRS as it appeared Monday night, March 11, as it set over the Chiricahua Mountains.

Tonight we drove north, away from our New Mexico resort, to find a site overlooking lower hills to the west, in order the track the comet for longer as it set toward the horizon. Friends from Winnipeg joined us, and as the Sun set, three more cars pulled up with astronomers from the area all looking for the best vantage point for comet watching. We had an impromptu roadside comet party.

Even so, it was tough picking PANSTARRS out of the twilight and it was never naked eye. Pity this comet hasn’t blossomed, as a bright long tail would have been a beautiful sight in the sunset glow. However, it is what we had expected – a first time visitor from the Oort Cloud promising great things initially but never quite delivering on the promise. Still, we were all happy to see it and shoot it. This frame is one of 140 I took in time-lapse of the comet setting over the hills.

We have ideal conditions for comet viewing each night this week, unlike many in the northern hemisphere now. So our little group of Canadians in New Mexico are taking some satisfaction in knowing we’re seeing it, and many aren’t.

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

 

Skies of Enchantment – Summer Milky Way Rising


Summer Milky Rising over Adobe House (14mm 5DII)

If you lived here you’d be in astronomy paradise.

This is the summer Milky Way and galactic centre in Sagittarius and Scorpius rising before dawn early this morning. The setting is the Painted Pony Resort in New Mexico, and its adobe lodges.

There’s no more spectacular sight than this in the night sky, other than perhaps an all-sky aurora display. And they don’t get too many of those down here at 31° North in southern New Mexico.

This image is a stack of ten 3-minute exposures for the sky (to smooth out noise) but the ground is from just 2 of those exposures and is blurred because the camera was tracking the sky. Light from walkway lights, plus starlight itself, added just enough illumination to provide details in the foreground.

So to be clear – this is a real scene. The Milky Way has not been pasted onto a separate image of the foreground. However, colour and contrast have been boosted to bring out details your eye would not have seen had you been standing here early this morning in the frosty New Mexico night.

Again, as with my previous image taken earlier in the night, I used the new Samyang 14mm ultra-wide angle lens, at f/2.8. It works very well!

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

Skies of Enchantment – Winter Milky Way Setting


Winter Milky Way over Adobe House (14mm 5DII)

In the land of enchantment, the winter Milky Way sets over our adobe house.

I’m in New Mexico, enjoying wonderfully clear skies. In the early evening the winter Milky Way runs north and south then turns to set over in the west, as it’s doing here, over the main house at the Painted Pony Resort near Rodeo, in southwest New Mexico.

Jupiter and the stars of Taurus are at upper right, and Orion is just right of centre. Above the house shine Sirius and the stars of Canis Major and Puppis. The area of red in the Milky Way just above the house is the massive Gum Nebula in Vela, an area of sky hidden from us in Canada.

For this image I combined a stack of five 5-minute tracked exposures taken with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 800 and 14mm Samyang lens wide open at f/2.8. The ground details are from two of the exposures.

This was a fabulous night with more to come this week.

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

Comet PANSTARRS at Perihelion


Comet PANSTARRS C/2011 L4 (March 10, 2013)

Got it! After a few days of cloud, the skies cleared perfectly tonight for our first look at Comet PANSTARRS.

This is the comet on March 10, the day it rounded the Sun at perihelion, its closest point to the Sun. The comet, which came from the Oort Cloud, is now on its way back to where it came from. But for the next few days, it will be at its best in our evening sky in the northern hemisphere. Friends down under in the southern hemisphere have been enjoying views of the comet for the last two weeks, but the comet has now moved far enough north it has entered our northern hemisphere skies.

The view is actually best from higher latitudes but I’m here at latitude 31° N, in southwestern New Mexico, seeking the clearest skies for the comet. We got them tonight. This view is of the comet about 7° up, just above the rim of the Chiricahua Mountains to the west of us, in Arizona.

The comet will climb higher over the next few days, with a prime night on March 12 when the waxing Moon appears near the comet.

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