Live from Pluto under the Planetarium Dome


Live From Pluto Talk04

It was a full house for my Live from Pluto talk at TELUS Spark!

Something a little different from me this time. Not images or time-lapses of scenic places, but of me presenting a lecture and planetarium show!

This past two weeks I was immersed back into the world of planetarium programming.

Last night, July 16, was the culmination, as I presented a talk and planetarium show devoted to viewing the amazing new images from Pluto and the New Horizons probe … and to taking the audience through the solar system courtesy of the planetarium theatre’s Digistar 5 projection system.

The lecture was in the Digital Dome at TELUS Spark, the science centre in Calgary, Alberta. As you can see, it played to a packed “standing room only” house in the dome. The short time-lapse compresses my one-hour lecture into one minute!

In it, you can get a fast-paced taste of the visuals and immersive scenes I was able to program and project onto the dome with the Digistar.

That’s me down front on stage, running the show off the Digistar’s iPad.

What a way to present a lecture! I spent 40 years producing and presenting planetarium shows, but these new tools for visualizing the universe in the dome are jaw-dropping. It was fun to get back using them again, to bring this historic flyby event to the public in a unique way.

The movie begins with the audience entering, and ends with the Q&A and audience exiting. It includes scenes where we fly alongside New Horizons out to Pluto, then orbit Ceres with Dawn, plus land on a comet with Rosetta and Philae.

I shot the time-lapse with a Canon 6D and 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens shooting under Auto Exposure for a total of 1177 frames, taken at an interval of 8 seconds, played back here at 15 frames per second. The camera was behind the dome in the cove, where it would not be disturbed. Music is by Adi Goldstein.

Many thanks to the staff at TELUS Spark (sparkscience.ca) for making the event possible.

– Alan, July 17, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Partial Solar Eclipse — from Calgary


This was the first significant solar eclipse in many years that I did not travel to. For the May 20, 2012 eclipse I was content to stay at home on the sidelines and take in the partial eclipse of the Sun.

From Calgary, the Moon covered about 62% of the Sun at mid-eclipse, which this shot captures, taken at maximum eclipse for us. Here, a big sunspot group is just being uncovered by the passing Moon. Having lots of spots on the Sun this day made the partial eclipse all the more interesting, though still no comparison to the annular eclipse visible over the spectacular landscapes of the southwestern U.S.

I would have been there, in the Moon’s ant-umbral shadow, had it not been for the fact that at home I am very much involved in the opening of a new planetarium and digital dome theatre at the science centre, TELUS Spark, where I work. This is a milestone event in one’s life, one I’ve had the privilege of experiencing twice before, in 1984 in Edmonton with the opening of its new science centre and planetarium, and in 1996 when we converted the old Calgary Centennial Planetarium into a then state-of-the-art tilt-dome theatre. Oddly coincidental, I missed seeing the May 15, 1984 annular eclipse in the SE United States due to the imminent opening of the Edmonton theatre. History repeats itself — a Saros cycle of science centres perhaps?

For this eclipse we conducted a public viewing session and managed to grab excellent views once clouds cleared away before mid-eclipse. Eclipse anxiety was running high leading up to and through the initial minutes of the eclipse as it looked like clouds were going to skunk us. But wonder of wonders, the sky cleared and the eclipsed Sun was revealed, to my great relief. Missing the annular eclipse is bad enough; I didn’t want to miss the partial eclipse, too!

Now, we just need clear skies on June 5 for the transit of Venus.

— Alan, May 20, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Snow Moon over the Science Centre


Here’s the Full Moon of February rising over the place I work, the science centre in Calgary, called TELUS Spark.

I took this Tuesday evening, February 7, on the night of what is sometimes called the Snow Moon. I knew the Full Moon would rise in the northeast and worked out, with the help of a useful iPad app, just where to stand on the hill above the science centre to get the Moon rising over the science centre. Though it did take a last minute move of a hundred feet to place the Moon over the front entrance!

The building glows from the light of banks of LEDs that can be programmed to slowly change colour. The parking lot lights are all nicely shielded, as any astronomically friendly place should be, to prevent light spilling upward. The odd structure to the left contains the new digital dome theatre, which opens this spring. The dome screen is being installed this month. The dome will feature a Digistar 4 projection system with two pairs of very high-end Sony 4K video projectors, for interactive star shows and full-dome movies. Maybe even laser shows!

Should be fun!

— Alan, February 8, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer