STEVE Puts on a Show


Steve Auroral Arc over House #2 (May 6, 2018)

The strange aurora named Steve put on a show on Sunday, May 6. 

The past weekend was a good one for Northern Lights here in Alberta and across western Canada.

Aurora and Milky Way over Red Deer River

A decent display lit the northern sky on Saturday, May 5, on a warm spring evening. I took in that show from a favorite spot along the Red Deer River.

The next night, Sunday, May 6, we were hoping for a better show, but the main aurora never amounted to much across the north.

Instead, we got a fine showing of Steve, an unusual isolated arc of light across the sky, that was widely observed across western Canada and the northern U.S.  I caught his performance from my backyard.

Popularized by the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group, Steve is the fanciful name applied to what still remains a partly unexplained phenomenon. It might not even be a true aurora (and it is NOT a “proton arc!”) from electrons streaming down, but a stream of hot gas flowing east to west and always well south of the main aurora.

Thus Steve is “backronymed” as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

To the eye he appears as a grey arc, not doing much, but fading in, slowly shifting, then fading away after 30 to 60 minutes. He doesn’t stick around long.

The camera reveals his true colours.

Steve Auroral Arc over House #1 (May 6, 2018)

This is Steve to the west, displaying his characteristic pink and white tints.

Fish-Eye Steve #1 (May 6, 2018)

But overhead, in a fish-eye lens view, he displayed ever so briefly another of his talents – slowly moving fingers of green, called a picket fence aurora.

It was appropriate for Steve to appear on cue, as NASA scientists and local researchers who are working on Steve research were gathered in Calgary to discuss future aurora space missions. Some of the researchers had not yet seen Steve in person, but all got a good look Sunday night as they, too, chased Steve!

I shot a time-lapse and real-time videos of Steve, the latter using the new Sony a7III camera which can shoot 4K videos of night sky scenes very well.

The final video is here on Vimeo.

Steve Aurora – May 6, 2018 (4K) from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

It is in 4K, if you choose to stream it at full resolution.

With summer approaching, the nights are getting shorter and brighter, but we here in western Canada can still see auroras, while aurora destinations farther north are too bright and lack any night skies.

Plus our latitude south of the main auroral oval makes western Canada Steve country!

— Alan, May 9, 2018 / © 2018 / AmazingSky.com

 

The Rise and Set of the Easter Full Moon


Rising Easter Full Moon (Composite)

A clear day on Easter Eve allowed me to photograph the setting Full Moon in the morning and the rising Full Moon in the evening.

This was another of the year’s special Full Moons, and this time for a valid historical reason.

This was the “paschal” Full Moon, the one used to determine the date of Easter. It was the first Full Moon after the vernal equinox. The first Sunday after that Full Moon is Easter. This year, the Moon was full about an hour before sunrise on the morning of Saturday, March 31. Easter was the next day, Sunday, April 1.

Below is the view of the Full Moon not long after it was officially Full, as it was setting into the west as the first rays of sunlight lit the foreground at dawn on March 31.

The Easter Full Moonset #1 (March 31, 2018)
The setting Full Moon on the morning of Saturday, March 31, 2018, the day before Easter. At this time, at about 7:20 a.m. MDT, the Moon was a little less than an hour after the moment of exact Full Moon, so the Sun had already risen before the Moon set. This was with the Canon 6D MkII and 200mm lens with 1.4x convertor, shot from home.

To be precise, the actual paschal Full Moon is a fictional or calculated Moon that occurs 14 days into the lunar cycle, and isn’t an observed Moon. But this year, we really did have a Full Moon just before Easter Sunday, and on the first day of Passover, from which we get the term “paschal.”

Later on March 31, after sunset, the Moon was now half a day past Full, causing it to rise a good half hour after sunset. However, the lighting and sky colour was still good enough to place a reddened Moon rising into a deep blue sky for a wonderful colour contrast.

This was also touted as a “blue Moon,” as it was the second Full Moon in March, and it was also the second blue Moon of 2018. (January had one, too.) But as you can see the Moon was hardly “blue!” It was a fine pink Moon.

Rising Easter Full Moon (Trail)
This is a stack of 424 exposueres, taken at 3-second intervals for a time-lapse, but here stacked with Lighten blend mode to create a moon trail streak. I used the Advanced Stacker Plus actions in Photoshop. The final Moon disk comes from the last image in the sequence, while the ground comes from the first image in the sequence. I shot this sequence from home, using a 200mm Canon lens and 1.4x convertor, on the Canon 6D MkII. Exposures ranged from 0.8 second to 1/15 second, all at ISO 100 and f/4.

The above image is a little fun with Photoshop, and stacks hundreds of images of the rising Moon to create a “Moon trail,” showing the change in colour of the Moon as it rose.

This short HD movie includes two versions of the full time-lapse sequence:

• One showing the Moon rising normally, though the sky and ground come from the first image in the sequence.

• The second is another bit of Photoshop fun, with the Moon leaving disks behind it as it rose.

For the technically minded, I created both movies using Photoshop’s video editing capabilities to layer in various still images on top of the base video file. The stills are layered with a Lighten blend mode to superimpose them onto the background sky and video.

Rising Moon Movie Composite Screenshot
A screen shot of the Photoshop layers used to create the Moon disk composite time-lapse.

While Easter is a spring holiday, it hardly seems spring here in Alberta. The coldest Easter weekend in decades and lots of snow on the ground made this a winter scene.

With luck, spring will arrive here well before the next Full Moon.

— Alan, April 3, 2018 / © 2918 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com 

 

The Northern Lights from Norway


All-Sky Aurora from Norway #1

The skies of Norway provided superb nights of Northern Lights as I sailed the coast.

As I did last autumn, I was able to join a cruise along the Norwegian coast, instructing an aurora tour group from Road Scholar. We were on one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships that ply the coast each day, the m/s Nordnorge, on a 12-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes at the top end of Norway, then back again to Bergen.

Purple Auroral Curtains in Twilight from Norway
Auroral curtains in twilight on March 14, 2018 from at sea north of Tromsø, Norway, on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, with the curtains showing a purple tinge at the tops, likely from scattered blue sunlight mixing with the red oxygen colours. The Big Dipper is at centre in a view looking north. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

In all, we had three very clear nights, with good auroras on two of those nights. Several other nights had bright auroras but seen through broken cloud.

Aurora Watchers on m/s Nordnorge #1
Aurora tourists taking in the sky show on March 14, 2018 from the aft deck of the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge on the journey south, from a location north of Tromsø this night. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

All observing and photography is done from the ship deck as we sailed among the fjords and sounds along the coast.

Purple Auroral Curtains from Norway
Auroral curtains in twilight on March 14, 2018 from at sea north of Tromsø, Norway, on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, with the curtains showing a purple tinge to the background sky, likely from scattered blue sunlight mixing with the red oxygen colours. The Big Dipper is at upper left; Orion is at far right; Leo is left of centre, in a view looking south. This is a single 2-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

The best night was an all-sky display on March 14 seen from north of Tromsø as we sailed back south from our farthest north of 71° latitude.

All-Sky Aurora from Norway #3
A sky-covering aurora on March 14, 2018, as seen from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordnorge, as we sailed south toward Tromsø, Norway. The view is looking east. The curtains are converging to the zenith at top. This is a single 1.6-second exposure with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 8000.

Earlier, on the trip north, we had a great night as the aurora danced over the Lofoten Islands and we entered the Trollfjord. There is no finer scenery on Earth for framing the Lights.

Entering Trollfjorden with Aurora
A scene from the Norwegian coast and the Loftoten Islands of the aurora over the entrance to the Trollfjorden fjord, from the forward deck of the Hurtigruten ferry ship the m/s Nordnorge. Cassiopeia and Perseus are at left. Vega (brightest) and Deneb are at lower right, high above the northern horizon from this latitude of 68° North. Taken March 10, 2018. I used the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200, for a 2-second exposure.

As is the custom, the captain enters the fjord by searchlight, a scene depicted below.

Entering Trollfjorden with Searchlights
A scene from the Norwegian coast and the Loftoten Islands of the aurora over the entrance to the Trollfjorden fjord, from the forward deck of the Hurtigruten ferry ship the m/s Nordnorge. The ship is using its searchlights to mark the entrance to the narrow fjord. Cassiopeia and Perseus are at left. Vega (brightest) and Deneb are at lower right, high above the northern horizon from this latitude of 68° North. Taken March 10, 2018. I used the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200, for a 2-second exposure.

I shot very few time-lapses on this trip (unlike my trip in October 2017, which you can see in a music video at a previous blog post).

However, here’s a short music video of two clips I did shoot, including a time-lapse of us approaching the Trollfjord entrance.

As we sailed south, we left the aurora behind. Our last look was of the arc of the auroral oval across the north, seen from south of Rorvik.

Panorama of the Auroral Oval from Norway
A 180° panorama of the sweep of the auroral oval, from due west, at left, to due east, at right, with due north near the image centre. Orion is just setting into the sea at far left. Cassiopeia is at centre. Deneb and Vega are the bright stars low in the sky and circumpolar shining just right of centre. I shot this on the evening of March 16, 2018 from at sea on the coast of Norway south of Rorvik, with the ship sailing south away from the aurora. This was from the aft deck of the m/s Nordnorge, one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships. The latitude was about 63° N. This is a panorama from 8 segments, stitched with PTGui, and shot with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8, for a series of 1-second exposures at ISO 6400 with the Nikon D750.

However, for several nights prior we had been under the auroral oval and the Lights had danced for us over the sky.

Norway is one of the world’s best sites for seeing the Northern Lights – the “nordlys” – and taking a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast is a great way to see the Lights and incredible scenery that changes by the minute.

— Alan, March 22, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Waterfalls of Light – The Aurora


Once again, the skies over Churchill, Manitoba delivered a wonderful show of Northern Lights during the 2018 aurora season.

As I do each year, in February I visited the Churchill Northern Studies Centre on the frozen shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada to help present aurora watching sessions to tourists from around the world.

I shot these images and the time-lapses for the music video during my two-week stay February 7 to 18.


The music video incorporates sequences shot on three nights: February 15, 16, and 18. Visit the video’s Vimeo page where the description below the video contains all the details and tech information. I won’t repeat that all here.

It is viewable in up to 6K resolution, almost IMAX™ grade!

The music is by the British composer and musician Alexis Ffrench, and is used by kind permission. Visit his website to hear and learn more.

This year, finding clear skies was not a problem. We had clouds on only 2 nights of the 11 I stayed in Churchill. However, temperatures were typically -35° C with a brisk wind at times. There were extreme cold warnings out which, for Churchill, means EXTREME COLD! But that gave us very clear skies.

Often, tour participants are just as excited about seeing the stars and Milky Way as they are about checking the Lights off their lifetime bucket list.

The other challenge was on a couple of nights there was no significant aurora which, for Churchill under the auroral oval, was unusual. On other nights the Lights didn’t appear until about 3 a.m.

But on some nights the aurora danced as expected in the evening or midnight sky, covering the sky in a jaw-dropping display, and sometimes with vivid pinks fringing the curtains.

Here are some of my favourite still images from my 2018 stay.

First, a panorama selfie!

Auroral Oval in Twilight Panorama
A 180° panorama of the auroral oval across the northern horizon in the twilight sky on February 18, 2018. The aurora was active right at the start of the evening this night, the final night of my stay in Churchill for 2018, here at the Northern Studies Centre. The panorama is from the upper floor deck. The aurora appeared so early we had not had a chance yet to turn off the building lights – programs were still happening inside. The temperature was -35° C. Up from low of -40 earlier in the day. The wind had also died down, mercifully! Orion is rising at right. This is a 9-segment panorama stitched with Adobe Camera Raw. The lens is the 14mm Sigma Art lens wide open at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200. Exposures were 4 seconds each. For the last one, with the self-timer I got into the last frame for a selfie.

 

All-Sky Aurora with Pink Curtains #2
A fish-eye lens view of an all-sky aurora on February 16, 2018, over the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in Churchill, Manitoba, and caught during a short-lived bright outburst when the bottom fringe of the auroral curtains turned brilliant pink for a minute or so, due to energetic electrons exciting lower altitude nitrogen molecules. This was with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and the Canon 6D MkII at ISO 3200. The sky is one exposure while the ground is a mean combined stack of 4 exposures to smooth noise. The exposures were part of a 925-frame time-lapse.

 

Selfie with Aurora at Churchill Northern Studies Centre (Feb 11,
A reasonably bright display of Northern Lights appears and performs for the first aurora group of the season at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba, on the night of February 11/12, 2018. The Kp Index was still low, only 0 to 1, and the Bz was often still North, but for some reason we got a decent display this night. Here, I pose for my own selfie, gazing at the Lights. This is a single shot with the Rokinon 12mm lens and Nikon D750.

 

Feathered-Edge All-Sky Aurora #4
An all-sky aurora display in the early morning hours (between 3 and 4 am) on February 10, 2018, shot from the upper deck of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba. The main arc had an ususual feathered lower edge with protruding patches. Visually, the aurora was dim and colourless. Kp Index was 1. This is looking east with Jupiter rising at centre. This is a single exposure with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens on the Nikon D750.

 

Dipper and Polaris in Aurora
The Big and Little Dippers, and Polaris over the boreal forest amid subtly coloured aurora at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Taken on Feb 11, 2018 on a night with a decent display of Northern Lights. Arcturus is at right. Cassiopeia is at left.

 

Orion and Auroral Swirl over CNSC
Orion and the winter sky, at left, and a swirl of colourful aurora over the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in a display on February 11, 2018. People from the first Learning Vacations group of the season are shooting the Lights. This is a single image with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens and Nikon D750.

 

Auroral Curtains in Twilight (Feb 18, 2018) #2
Curtains of aurora during an active storm on February 18, 2018 from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in the early evening in the last of the twilight. This night the aurora was brightest early in the evening. The Big Dipper is at left. This is a single frame from a 725-frame time-lapse with the Nikon D750 at ISO 3200 and Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8. Exposures were 2 seconds.

 

Snaking Auroral Serpent
An auroral curtain with dramatic snaking curls and twists like a serpent, as auroras were sometimes seen and depicted in medieval times. This is a frame from a time-lapse sequence taken February 16, 2018 from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba, using the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750.

 

Kp0 Aurora from Churchill
A Kp 0 (lowest level reading of the 0 to 9 Kp Index) aurora at 3:30 am on February 11, 2018, from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in Churchill, Manitoba. Earlier in the night there was no aurora visible at all, but by 3:30 there was a faint arc and patches, but very dim. The Bz Index had turned south, so the aurora picked up a little, but very litttle! The colours and contrast have been enhanced here. This is an example of the lowest level aurora from a site under the auroral zone. This is a stitch of 4 segments to make a small vertical panorama to take in the horizon and the Big Dipper at the zenith at top. Gemini and Auriga are at left; the star Vega is right of centre. Polaris is above centre. We are looking nearly due north. All frames with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens, for 25 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 3200. Stitched with PTGui.

Thanks for looking!

— Alan, February 25, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

The Beauty of the Milky Way


Beauty of Milky Way Title

I present a new 4-minute music video (in 4K resolution) featuring time-lapses of the Milky Way.

One of the most amazing sights is the Milky Way slowly moving across the sky. From Canada we see the brightest part of the Milky Way, its core region in Sagittarius and Scorpius moving across the souther horizon in summer.

But from the southern hemisphere, the galactic core rises dramatically and climbs directly overhead, providing a jaw-dropping view of our edge-on Galaxy stretching across the sky. It is a sight all stargazers should see.

I shot the time-lapses from Alberta, Canada and from Australia, mostly in 2016 and 2017.

I include a still-image mosaic of the Milky Way from Aquila to Crux shot in Chile in 2011.

Do watch in 4K if you can! And in Full-Screen mode.

Locations include Writing-on-Stone and Police Outpost Provincial Parks, and Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta.

In Australia I shot from the Victoria coast and from inland in New South Wales near Coonabarabran, with some scenes from the annual OzSky Star Safari held each April.

I used a SYRP Genie Mini and a Star Adventurer Mini for the panning sequences, and a TimeLapse+ View intervalometer for the day-to-night sequences.

I processed all sequences (some 7500 frames in total) through the software LRTimelapse to smooth transitions and flickering.

Music is by Audiomachine.

Enjoy!

— Alan, January 22, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com 

 

Mercury, Moon, and Mirages


Rising and Distorted Supermoon on New Year's Day

Happy New Year to all!  

New Year’s Day proved to be a busy one for sky sights from home in southern Alberta.

Clear skies and warming temperatures allowed me to capture a trio of sights on January 1: Mercury in the morning, a unique mirage called the Fata Morgana in the afternoon, and the rising Full Moon in the evening.

On January 1 elusive Mercury was at its greatest elongation away from the Sun in the morning sky. This placed it as high as it can get above the horizon, though that’s not high at all at the best of times.

Mercury in the Morning on New Year's Day
Mercury at dawn in the southeast sky.

I captured Mercury before dawn as a bright star in the colourful twilight, using a telephoto lens to frame the scene more closely.

At this time the temperature outside was still about -24° C, as a cold snap that had plunged the prairies into frigid air for the last week still held its grip.

But by the afternoon, warmer air was drifting in from the west, in a Chinook flow from the Rockies.

As evidence of the change, the air exhibited a form of mirage called the Fata Morgana, named after the sorceress Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend. The illusion of castles in the air was thought to be a spell cast by her to lure sailors to their doom.

Fata Morgana Mirage on the Prairies
A Fata Morgana mirage on the Prairies

The mirage produced the illusion of bodies of water in the distance, plus distorted, elongated forms of wind turbines and farm buildings on the horizon. The cause is the refraction of light by layers of warm air aloft, above cold air near the ground.

By evening the mirage effect was still in place, producing a wonderful moonrise with the Full Moon writhing and rippling as it rose through the temperature inversion.

As the lead image at top shows, at moments the top of the disk had a green rim (almost a distinct green flash), while the bottom was tinted red.

Here’s a short time-lapse video of the scene, shot through a small telescope. The lead image above and below is a composite of four of the frames from this movie.

Rising and Distorted Supermoon on New Year's Day
A composite of 4 exposures of the rising Full Moon on New Year’s Day, 2018, rising from left to right over a snowy prairie horizon in southern Alberta. This is a composite of 4 out of 500 images shot for a time-lapse sequence, layered in Photoshop. All were with a 66mm f/7 William Optics apo refractor and Canon 60Da camera firing 1/25th second exposures every 1 second.

This was also the largest and closest Full Moon of the year, what has become popularly called a “supermoon,” but more correctly called a perigean Full Moon.

A lunar cycle from now, at the next Full Moon, the Moon undergoes a total eclipse in the dawn hours of January 31 for western North America. This will be another misnamed Moon, a “blue Moon,” the label for the second Full Moon in a calendar month.

And some will also be calling it a “supermoon,” as it also occurs close to perigee – the closest point of the Moon to Earth in its monthly orbit – but not as close a perigee as it was at on January 1.

So it will be less than super, but it will nevertheless be spectacular as the Full “blue” Moon turns red as it travels through Earth’s shadow.

— Alan, January 2, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Winter Stars over the Badlands


Orion Rising Star Trails at Dinosaur Park

The clouds cleared to present a magical night under the Moon in the Badlands of southern Alberta.

At last, a break in the incessant clouds of November, to provide me with a fine night of photography at one of my favourite places, Dinosaur Provincial Park, declared a U.N. World Heritage Site for its deposits of late Cretaceous fossils.

I go there to shoot the night sky over the iconic hoodoos and bentonite clay hills.

November is a great time to capture the equally iconic constellation of Orion rising in the east in the early evening. The scene is even better if there’s a Moon to light the landscape.

November 27 presented the ideal combination of circumstances: clear skies (at least later at night), and a first quarter Moon to provide enough light without washing out the sky too much and positioned to the south and west away from the target of interest – Orion and the winter sky rising in the east.

Below is a slide show of some of the still images I shot, all with the Canon 6D MkII camera and fine Rokinon 14mm f/2.5 lens, used wide open. Most are 15-second exposures, untracked.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I kept another camera, the Nikon D750 and Sigma 24mm Art lens, busy all night shooting 1200 frames for a time-lapse of Orion rising, with clouds drifting through, then clearing.

Below is the resulting video, presented in two versions: first with the original but processed frames assembled into a movie, followed by a version where the movie frames show accumulating star trails to provide a better sense of sky motion.

To create the frames for this version I used the Photoshop actions Advanced Stacker Plus, from StarCircleAcademy. They can stack images then export a new set of frames each with the tapering trails, which you then assemble into a movie. I also used it to produce the lead image at top.

The techniques and steps are all outlined in my eBook, highlighted at top right.

The HD movie is just embedded here, and is not published on Vimeo or YouTube. Expand to fill your screen.

To help plan the shoot I used the astronomy software Starry Night, and the photo planning software The Photographer’s Ephemeris, or TPE. With it, you can place yourself at the exact spot to see how the Sun, Moon and stars will appear in sightlines to the horizon.

Here’s the example screen shot. The spheres across the sky represent the Milky Way.

IMG_3517

Look east to see Orion now in the evening sky. Later this winter, Orion will be due south at nightfall.

Clear skies!

— Alan, November 29, 2017 / © 2017 AmazingSky.com