The Great Lone Land … and Great Big Sky


The Gap Road Panorama (Cypress Hills Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Colour of Dark


Colors of the Dark Sky Panorama

What colour is the dark night sky? Depending on conditions, it can be any colour you want.

I shot this 360° panorama last night from my backyard under what looked like a clear and fairly dark, moonless sky. Looks can certainly be deceiving. The camera picked up all kinds of colours the eye couldn’t see.

Let’s review what’s causing the colours:

• To the north just left of  centre the horizon is rimmed with a bright yellow glow from all-night perpetual twilight present around summer solstice at my mid-northern latitude.

• Above that shines a green and magenta band from a low-level aurora just visible to the naked eye.

• Much of the sky is tinted with bands of green from ever-present airglow, caused by oxygen atoms at the top of the atmosphere giving off at night some of the energy they absorbed by day. I had thought the sky would look blue from the perpetual twilight but the airglow seems to overwhelm that.

• Yellow glows around the horizon at left (west) and right (southeast) are from urban light pollution from towns 50 km away.

• Some strands of remaining cloud from a departing thunderstorm add streams of brown as they reflect lights from below.

• Finally, the Milky Way shows up in shades of yellow and pale blue, punctuated here and there by red patches of glowing hydrogen hundreds of light years away.

The only thing missing this night was a display of electric blue noctilucent clouds.

The sources of most of these colours are an anathema to observers of faint deep-sky objects. Aurora, airglow and certainly light pollution just get in the way and hide the light from the distant deep sky.

A word on technique:
I shot this panorama using an 8mm fish-lens to shoot 8 segments at 45° spacings. I used the excellent software PTGui to stitch the segments together, which it did seamlessly and flawlessly. Each segment was an untracked 1 minute exposure at ISO 3200 and f/3.5. The panorama covers 360° horizontally and nearly 180° vertically, from the ground below to the zenith above. It takes in everything except the tripod and me!

– Alan, June 8, 2013 / © Alan Dyer