Following the Evening Star


Selfie with Binoculars Looking at Moon (Feb 27, 2020)It’s been a marvelous few months following Venus rise and fall across the evening sky, in its best show in eight years.

Venus is now gone from our western sky, but since late 2019 until late May 2020 it had dominated the sky as a brilliant evening star.

Here’s a gallery of Venus portraits I shot during its wonderful show these last few months.


The show began in November 2019 when rising Venus met declining Jupiter on November 23 for a fine conjunction of the two brightest planets in the evening twilight.

Venus and Jupiter over the Rockies
The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter of November 23, 2019, as seen over the foothills and front ranges of the Rocky Mountains in southwest Alberta. I shot this from the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, prior to their monthly Open House event that night with about 400 in attendance. But at this time it was just me and one other ardent photographer present to shoot this scene. This is an HDR blend (stacked using Adobe Camera Raw) of 5 exposures at 2/3-stop intervals, with the Rokinon 85mm lens at f/4 on the red-sensitive Canon EOS Ra camera at ISO 100.

A week later I captured the line of the then three evening planets and the Moon across the southwest, defining the path of the ecliptic across the evening sky.

Moon and Three Planets Line-Up
The waxing crescent Moon and three planets in a line across the southwestern evening sky on Nov. 30, 2019, a chilly and frosty night. Saturn is below and to the right of the Moon, Venus is brightest at centre, while Jupiter is to the lower right of Venus just above the horizon. Those two planets were in conjunction a week earlier. The line of Moon and planets visibly defines the ecliptic low across the late autumn evening sky. This is from latitide 51° N. I shot this from the viewpoint at Blackfoot Crossing overlooking the Bow River in Alberta.

A week after that I took the opportunity to shoot some selfies of me with binoculars looking at Venus, as it met Saturn in a wide conjunction, with Venus then still low in the southwest. It was just beginning its climb up into the western sky.

Observing Venus and Saturn (Dec 8, 2019)
A selfie of me observing the grouping of Venus and Saturn in the evening twilight on Dec 8, 2019, using binoculars. They were closest to each other two nights later.

A month later in mid-winter, Venus was still rather low but brilliant even in a hazy moonlit sky, as I posed for another selfie, this time with a small telescope. These images are always useful for illustrations in books and magazines. And blogs!

Observing Venus in Clouds
A selfie of me observing Venus in clouds and in the moonlight. I am using the Explore Scientific 80mm refractor on the Twilight Nano alt-az mount. This was January 9, 2020.

By the end of February Venus had climbed high into the west, and was appearing monthly near the waxing crescent Moon. This is another binocular selfie from February 27.

Selfie with Binoculars Looking at Moon (Feb 27, 2020)
A selfie looking at the waxing crescent Moon near Venus on Feb 27, 2020, using the Celestron SkyMaster 15×70 Pro binoculars on the Sky-Watcher AZ5 mount for a steady view. This is a single shot with the Nikon D750 and Sigma 24mm lens, using the flash on the camera.

In March I visited Churchill, Manitoba just as the lockdown and travel restrictions were coming into effect. But our lone and last tour group at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre saw some fine auroras, as here on this evening with the Northern Lights appearing even in the twilight. And what’s that bright star? Venus, of course!

Aurora in Twilight at Churchill Northern Studies Centre
The Northern Lights in the evening twilight on March 18, 2020, as the aurora appeared in the early evening sky. Orion is at far left in this panorama, with Cassiopeia at top centre. Part of the Big Dipper is at far right. The bright object over the Centre is Venus, with the Pleiades above. This is a panorama of 8 segments with the Venus Optics 15mm lens at f/2 and Sony a7III at ISO 800 for 1.6 seconds each. Stitched with Photoshop.

Upon my return home to Alberta, I was able to shoot more panoramas on the prairies of the wonderful early spring sky with Orion setting into the twilight and Venus in Taurus shining below the iconic Pleiades star cluster.

Panorama of  Venus and the Winter Stars (March 25, 2020)
This is a panorama of the evening sky on March 25, 2020, with brilliant Venus high in the west at centre just after the date (March 24) of its greatest elongation in the evening sky for 2020. It appears here about as high as it can get with the ecliptic tipped up to a high angle in spring. To the left is Orion and the winter stars in the twilight, including Sirius at far left. Just above the horizon right of centre in the bright twilight is the day-old thin crescent Moon about to set. Above Venus are the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters. This is a panorama of 5 segments with the Nikon D750 and 24mm Sigma lens, stitched with PTGui. Each segment was 8 seconds at ISO 400 and f/2.8.

March 26 was a superb night for catching Venus now at its highest and almost at its brightest at this appearance, as the waxing Moon appeared below it.


The highlight of the spring Venus season was its close approach to the Pleiades, which it passes only every 8 years. Here I am viewing the conjunction two days before the closest approach, with Orion over my shoulder.

Viewing Venus & Pleiades with Big Binoculars
A selfie of me viewing the close approach of Venus to the Pleiades star cluster on April 1, 2020, using big 15×70 Celestron SkyMaster Pro binoculars mounted on a Canadian-built Starlight Innovations binocular mount, a parallelogram-style mount. Orion is over my left shoulder; the Hyades is at centre above the mount. The waxing gibbous Moon provided the illumination. This is a stack of 4 images for the ground to smooth noise and 1 image for the sky to minimize trailing, all 13 seconds at f/5.6 with the Sigma 24mm lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 1600. Topaz Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI applied.

The night of closest approach, April 3, was cloudy, but here is a consolation closeup taken the next night with brilliant Venus departing the Seven Sisters.

Venus and the Pleiades - Close-Up (April 4, 2020)
Venus above the Pleiades star cluster, M45, on April 4, 2020, in the twilight and moonlight. Light from the gibbous Moon illuminated the sky, so no long exposure would reveal much detail in and around the Pleiades. Venus passes close to the Pleiades only every 8 years. Some light cloud this night added the glow. This is a stack of multiple exposures of varying lengths: 2 minutes, 30 seconds, 10 seconds and 2 seconds, blended with masks to prevent Venus from being too blown out while still recording the stars. All were with the SharpStar 140mm PH apo refractor with the 0.73x flattener/reducer for f/4.8 and at ISO 400 with the Canon EOS Ra.

Later in April Venus reached its greatest brilliancy, at magnitude -4.7, the date when the size of is disk, phase, and proximity to Earth converge to make Venus as bright as possible. On this night I shot the Moon, then 30° away from Venus and the planet with the same gear to show their relative sizes and similar crescent phase this night. The caption provides more details.

Moon and Venus Crescents Compared
A collage of two images of the Moon and Venus taken minutes apart on April 28, 2020, to show the similarity in their phases this night, April 28, 2020. Both images were shot with the same focal length and camera and so are identical in image scale, to compare their apparent sizes. I have not enlarged Venus, but I have put a frame around it to emphasize that its image has been layered in as a composite. The Moon was a 5.6-day-old waxing crescent this night, 32% illuminated. Venus was at its greatest brilliancy, or Greatest Illuminated Extent, with a disk 38 arc seconds across and 27% illuminated, so slightly less. Taken with the 130mm Astro-Physics refractor with a 2X Barlow lens for an effective focal length of 1600mm and with the Canon 60Da APS-sensor camera. The Moon image is the full frame of the sensor, uncropped. Both images are single short exposures at ISO 100.

A week later, with Venus just past its point of greatest brilliancy, I shot the planet by daylight in the early evening sky, using a telescope to zoom into the planet to show its waning crescent phase. By this time the phase was obvious in binoculars.

Venus in the Day Sky
Venus in the daytime sky and through some thin clouds, on May 5, 2020, with Venus at a very high apparition. This was at about 7 pm with the Sun still well up in the early evening, to show how well Venus can be seen in the daytime sky when it is at a wider angle from the Sun; and indeed is often the best time to view it as the planet’s brilliance is muted. This is a single 1/400-second exposure at ISO 100 with the Canon 60Da through the Astro-Physics 130mm refractor and 2X Barlow for f/12 and 1600mm focal length.

But Venus was now dropping rapidly from sight. By May 23, it was low in the twilight and below Mercury, then at its best for 2020 for an evening appearance from my latitude. Note the thin Moon below the planets. This was a superb sight for binoculars.

Thin Moon below Venus and Mercury
On May 23, 2020, the very thin crescent Moon (then 34 hours old) shines below bright Venus (10 days before its inferior conjunction with the Sun) and above it dimmer Mercury , then 10 days before its greatest elongation from the Sun in the evening sky. All were beautifully visible to the naked eye and a great sight in binoculars, looking very much like this scene captured with a 135mm telephoto lens. Venus was magnitude -4.4, Mercury was -0.7. This is a single shot at f/2.8 and 1/ 5 second at ISO 100 with the Canon EOS Ra which does bring out the sunset reds well.

By May 29, Venus was now tough to pick out of the evening sky, and a challenge to shoot even by day, as it then stood only 8° away from the Sun. What was once obvious to the naked eye now took a computerized telescope to pick out of the noon-day blue sky. A telescope showed the now razor-thin crescent as Venus approached its June 3 “inferior conjunction” — its passage between Earth and the Sun.

Venus Near Inferior Conjunction (May 29, 2020)
Venus as a razor-thin crescent and only 8° east of the Sun on May 29, 2020, five days before its June 3 inferior conjunction. The crescent is extending a little beyond 180° here due to scattering in the Venusian clouds. The disk was 57 arc seconds across and 0.9% illuminated. The magnitude was -3.9. This was at midday, shot with the 130mm Astro-Physics f/6 refractor with a 2X Barlow and the Canon 60Da camera, but the frame cropped further in processing. This is a single 1/1250th second exposure at ISO 100, the sharpest of 70 still frames taken.

I shot and narrated video footage of the thin crescent Venus, my parting shots of Venus for its evening appearance in 2020.

But in June, post inferior conjunction, it will rise very quickly into our morning sky, providing a mirror-image repeat performance as a morning star for the rest of 2020.

Venus Near Inferior Conjunction from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.


I wish you all the best and a safe and healthy time in 2020. Take some solace in what the sky can show us and in the beauty of the night.

Clear skies!

— Alan, May 31, 2020 / AmazingSky.com 

 

Lilac Passages of the ISS


ISS Title Page

I present a short video, in 4K, of two video clips of the International Space Station in two successive passages across the sky on May 24/25, 2018.

The location was my backyard in southern Alberta.

The clips were shot in 4K in real-time video at 24 frames per second but with a 1/4-second shutter speed with a Sony a7III camera, and with 15mm full-frame fish-eye (first clip) and 8mm circular fish-eye lenses. ISO speeds were 6400 and 16,000.

The clips are sped up by 2x and 4X in post-production to make a shorter video for the web. The background sounds of the night are real-time and were recorded live with the videos.

What I cannot capture is the smell!

The lilacs were in bloom and lent a wonderful fragrant scent to the night air, which added to the sights and sounds of a spring night.

Thus the title of the video.

Much of North America is now enjoying great passes of the ISS. To find out when you can see it from your backyard see NASA’s Spot the Station website and enter your location.

– Alan, May 26, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Dawn Sky Delights


Aldebaran About to be Occulted by the Moon

It was one of those mornings when the sky was full of wonder.

After days and nights of smoke from unfortunate fires burning not far away, including in my favourite national park of Waterton Lakes, the sky cleared enough this morning, September 12, to reveal some fine sights.

At 6 a.m. the waning gibbous Moon passed in front of the star Aldebaran in Taurus. It is performing many such occultations of Aldebaran this year, but most aren’t well seen from any one location. This one was ideal, right from my backyard.

The lead image is a “high dynamic range” stack of several exposures showing the waning Moon and star set in some high haze adding the sky colours.

The star winked out behind the Moon’s bright limb as the Moon advanced from right to left (west to east) against the background sky.

Occultation of Aldebaran
Aldebaran nearing the limb of the Moon.
This shows a composite sequence, with images of the star taken every four minutes blended with a single image of the Moon. While it looks like the star is moving, it is really the Moon that is edging closer to Aldebaran.

The star reappeared from behind the dark limb of the Moon, but five minutes after sunrise, with the Moon in a bright blue sky. Still, the star stood out nicely in binoculars and in the telescope for this view.

Aldebaran Near the Moon in Day Sky
Aldebaran off the dark limb of the Moon.
Aldebaran is the point of light at right, just off the invisible edge of the Moon.

I shot stills and video, and compiled them into this short video.

Enlarge it to full screen to view it properly.

Meanwhile, over to the east the twilight sky was awash in planets.

Rocky Planets at Dawn with Labels (Sept. 12, 2017)
The line of dawn planets, with labels.
All the three inner terrestrial worlds were there: Venus, at top, Mercury below Regulus, and Mars lowest of the trio. Of course, a fourth terrestrial world is in the photo, too – Earth!

Mercury was at its greatest western elongation this morning, placing it as far from the Sun and as high in the sky as it gets, with this autumn appearance the best of 2017 for a morning showing for Mercury. Even so, you can see how Mercury is always low and easy to miss. However, this morning it was obvious to the naked eye.

Mars and Mercury will be in close conjunction at dawn on the morning of September 16.

Rocky Planets at Dawn (Sept. 12, 2017)

It was a fine morning to be up early and enjoy the solar system show.

— Alan, September 12, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Night-Shadowed Prairie


The Night Shadowed Prairie

“No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie.” – William Butler, 1873

In the 1870s, just before the coming of the railway and European settlement, English adventurer William Butler trekked the Canadian prairies, knowing what he called “The Great Lone Land” was soon to disappear as a remote and unsettled territory.

The quote from his book is on a plaque at the site where I took the lead image, Sunset Point at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

The night was near perfect, with the Milky Way standing out down to the southern horizon and the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana. Below, the Milk River winds through the sandstone rock formations sacred to the Blackfoot First Nations.

The next night (last night, July 26, as I write this) I was at another unique site in southern Alberta, Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. The sky presented one of Butler’s unmatched prairie sunsets.

Big Sky Sunset at Red Rock Coulee

This is “big sky” country, and this week is putting on a great show with a succession of clear and mild nights under a heat wave.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Red Rock Coulee

The waxing crescent Moon adds to the western sky and the sunsets. But it sets early enough to leave the sky dark for the Milky Way to shine to the south.

The Milky Way at Red Rock Coulee

This was the Milky Way on Wednesday night, July 27, over Red Rock Coulee. Sagittarius and the centre of the Galaxy lie above the horizon. At right, Saturn shines amid the dark lanes of the Dark Horse in the Milky Way.

I’m just halfway through my week-long photo tour of several favourite sites in this Great Lone Land. Next, is Cypress Hills and the Reesor Ranch.

— Alan, July 27, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Austral Moon of Evening


Waxing Moon in Evening Twilight Colours

From the southern hemisphere the Moon appears “upside-down” and higher each night in the northern sky as it waxes from crescent to Full.

These are scenes from the last week as the Moon rose higher into the evening sky as seen from Australia.

A northerner familiar with the sky would look at these and think these are images of the waning Moon at dawn in the eastern sky.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Cape Conran
The “upside-down” waxing crescent Moon in the evening sky from Victoria, Australia, at Cape Conran, West Cape area, on the Gippsland Coast, at latitude 37° South. Earthshine lights the dark side of the Moon. This was March 31, 2017. The Moon lights a glitter path on the water. This is a single 1.3-second exposure at f/2 with the 85mm Rokinon lens, and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 400.

But no, these are of the waxing Moon (the phases from New to Full) with the Moon in the evening sky.

From the southern hemisphere the ecliptic – the path of the planets – and the path of the Moon arcs across the northern sky. So as the Moon waxes from New to Full phase it appears to the right of the Sun, which still sets in the west. The world still spins the same way down under!

So the Moon appears upside down and with the crescent phase the “wrong” way for us northerners.

Panorama of the Waxing Moon at Sunset at Welshpool Harbour
A 240° panorama from 16 segments.

This panorama taken April 4 sweeps from northwest to southeast, but looks north at centre, to capture the scene at sunset of the waxing 8-day gibbous Moon in the northern sky as seen from the southern hemisphere.

The angle between the Sun and Moon is just over 90°, shown here by the angle between the right-angle arms of the wharf, pointed to the west at left, to the north at centre, and to the east at right.

The Sun has set just north of west, while the Moon sits 13° east of due north. The Earth’s shadow rises as the blue arc at far right to the east opposite the Sun.

Philip Island Sunset and Waxing Moon Panorama
A 240° panorama from 15 segments.

The next night, April 5, I shot this panorama from Philip Island south of Melbourne. Again, it shows the waxing gibbous Moon in the north far to the right of the setting Sun in the west (at left).

Getting used to the motion of the Sun and Moon across the northern sky, and the Moon appearing on the other side of the Sun than we are used to, is one of the challenges of getting to know the southern sky.

Things just don’t appear where nor move as you expect them to. But that’s one of the great delights of southern star gazing.

— Alan, April 8, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

End of Year Skies


New Moon for a New Year

The crescent Moon rises into the western evening sky as 2016 ends, while Venus shines bright, and Orion rises into the east.

Getting clear skies is a rare treat of late, but these are images from two such nights this week. On December 30, the thin waxing Moon appeared in the colourful twilight of a winter night. Despite the clouds and the Moon’s low altitude, the dark side of the Moon is plainly visible illuminated by Earthshine.

Venus in Twilight over Pioneer Grain Elevators

Venus is now brilliant as an evening star in the southwest. Here is it over the old wood grain elevators at Mossleigh, Alberta, some of the few of these landmarks left standing on the prairies.

Fainter Mars shines above Venus and over the month of January, Venus will climb up to meet Mars by month’s end for a fine conjunction with the crescent Moon as well. Watch through January as Venus and Mars converge.

Orion and Pioneer Grain Elevators

As the planets set into the southwest, Orion the Hunter rises into the east. Here it is over the Mossleigh elevators, illuminated by local lights.

Enjoy the winter skies as clouds permit!

Clear skies and Happy New Year!

— Alan, December 31, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Arch of the Sky Above and Land Below


Harvest Moon Rising over the Red Deer River

On Friday night the Harvest Moon rose amid the arching shadow of the Earth.

This was the view on Friday, September 16 at moonrise on the Red Deer River. The view is from the Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Badlands and sweeping curve of the river.

Above is the wide arch of the dark shadow of the Earth rising into the deepening twilight. Almost dead centre in the shadow is the Full Moon, the annual Harvest Moon.

Hours earlier the Moon passed through the shadow of our planet out at the Moon’s distance from Earth, creating a minor penumbral eclipse. No part of that eclipse, such as it was anyway, was visible from here.

But the alignment did place the Moon in the middle of our planet’s shadow projected into our atmosphere, as it does at every sunset and sunrise.

But it takes a very clear sky for the shadow to stand out as well as this in the darkening sky. I like how the curve of the shadow mirrors the curve of the river.

This is a marvellous spot for photography. I shared the site with one other photographer, at far right, who also came to capture the rising of the Harvest Moon.

The image is a 7-segment panorama with a 20mm lens, stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

— Alan, September 17, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

TWAN-black

 

The Cadence of the Moving Sky


Saturn, Mars and the Milky Way over the Bow River

Saturn, Mars and the Milky Way appeared in the twilight over the Bow River.

I shot this scene on August 24 from the viewpoint at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, overlooking the Bow River. Mars appears between Saturn above and Antares below, in a line of objects west of the Milky Way.

The valley below is the traditional meeting place of the Blackfoot Nation, and the site of the signing of Treaty Seven between Chief Crowfoot and Colonel MacLeod of the North West Mounted Police in 1877.

The image is a panorama of two images, each 20-second exposures at f/2 and ISO 1600 with the 24mm lens. I shot them just prior to shooting time-lapses of the moving sky, using two cameras to create a comparison pair of videos, to illustrate the choices in setting the cadence when shooting time-lapses.

The movies, embedded here, will be in the next edition of my Nightscapes and Time-Lapse ebook, with the current version linked to below. The text explains what the videos are showing.

 

Choose Your Style

When shooting frames destined for a time-lapse movie we have a choice:

  • Shoot fewer but longer exposures at slower ISOs and/or smaller apertures.

OR …

  • Shoot lots of short exposures at high ISOs and/or wide apertures.

 

The former yields greater depth of field; the latter produces more noise. But with time-lapses, the variations also affect the mood of a movie in playback.

This comparison shows a pair of movies, both rendered at 30 frames per second:

Clip #1 was taken over 2 hours using 20-second exposures, all at ISO 2000 and f/2 with 1-second intervals. The result was 300 frames.

Clip #2 was taken over 1 hour using 5-second exposures also at f/2 and 1-second intervals, but at ISO 8000. The result was 600 frames: twice as many frames in half the time.

Clip #1 shows fast sky motion. Clip #2 shows slow motion.

Clip #2 exhibits enough noise that I couldn’t bring out the dark foreground as well as in Clip #1. Clip 2 exhibits a slower, more graceful motion. And it better “time-resolves” fast-moving content such as cars and aircraft.

Which is better? It depends …

Long = Fast

The movie taken at a longer, slower cadence (using longer exposures) and requiring 2 hours to capture 300 frames resulted in fast, dramatic sky motion when played back. Two hours of sky motion are being compressed into 10 seconds of playback at 30 frames per second. You might like that if you want a dramatic, high-energy feel.

Short = Slow

By comparison, the movie that packed 600 frames into just an hour of shooting (by using short exposures taken at fast apertures or fast ISOs) produced a movie where the sky moves very slowly during its 10 seconds of playback, also at 30 frames per second. You might like that if you want a slow, peaceful mood to your movies.

So, if you want your movie to have a slow, quiet feel, shoot lots of short exposures. But, if you want your movie to have a fast, high-energy feel, shoot long exposures.

As an aside – all purchasers of the current edition of my ebook will get the updated version free of charge via the iBooks Store once it is published later this year. 

— Alan, August 26, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Moon and Star Conjunction


Moon and Aldebaran (July 29, 2016)

The waning Moon shone near the bright star Aldebaran in the dawn sky.

This was a beautiful sight this morning, before dawn on July 29. The crescent Moon, its night side illuminated by Earthshine, shone just below the brightest star in Taurus.

We are currently in 3-year period when the Moon’s path is taking it near or in front of Aldebaran every month. However, most of these occultations or conjunctions are not well-timed for any particular location. And many involve the too-brilliant gibbous or full Moon.

But this morning the timing and Moon phase were perfect. From my longitude on Earth in Alberta, the Moon passed closest to the star just before the sky was getting too bright with dawn. Having them set against the deep blue twilight was perfect.

From farther east the Moon would not have appeared as close to Aldebaran as this before sunrise. From farther west the Moon and star would have appeared much lower in the sky at closest approach.

Moon & Aldebaran Screen

TECHNICAL:

For this image I shot 6 exposures, from 2 seconds for the Earthshine, twilight sky colour and stars, to 1/125th second for the bright crescent. I then stacked, aligned, and blended them together using luminosity masks – masks that hide or reveal parts of the image based on the brightness of the scene. You can see them in the Photoshop screen shot – Click on the image to enlarge it.

How do you create these masks?

• Turn off all the layers except the one you want to create a mask for.

• Go to Channels and Command/Control Click on the RGB Channel.

• That automatically selects all the highlights.

• Go back to the image layer and then hit the Add Mask button down at the bottom of the Layers panel (the rectangle with the black dot in it).

• Done. Repeat that for each image layer.

More traditional high dynamic range or “HDR” stacking left odd colour fringing artifacts and double images on the slowly moving Moon, despite applying what is called “de-ghosting” and despite using a mount tracking at the lunar rate. I tried merging the images with HDR, but it didn’t work.

A nifty Photoshop action from the Astronomy Tools set by Noel Carboni added the diffraction spikes.

I shot all images with the 130mm Astro-Physics refractor at f/6 and the Canon 60Da camera at ISO 400.

— Alan, July 29, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Tis the Season for Night Shining Clouds


Noctilucent Clouds and Big Dipper

A bright display of noctilucent clouds last night prompts me to remind northerners to look north at this prime season for night shining clouds.

Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) can be seen only in summer and are best in the few weeks before and after (mostly after) summer solstice. I shot all these images in the middle of the night. Indeed, the two images above and just below are from 3 am on the morning of June 27.

NLCs are high altitude clouds at the edge of space some 80 kilometres above the Earth, far above any normal weather clouds. Their height allows sunlight streaming over the pole to illuminate them all night long.

Noctilucent Clouds over Pond
Noctilucent clouds at 3 am on June 27 over a prairie pond in southern Alberta. The NLCs were visible as an arc across the north for at least 2 hours and were still there as dawn twilight brightened at 3:30 am. This is looking due north with the bowl of the Big Dipper at upper left. Capella is at lower right. Shot with the 24mm lens.

Their cause is a mystery. They may form by water vapour condensing on meteoric dust particles.

They look luminescent, as if glowing on their own. But these are not auroras. They shine only by reflected sunlight.

And they have complex structures, with intricate waves and ripples.

Noctilucent Clouds (June 17, 2016)
A display of noctilucent clouds, the first good display of the season from my area of southern Alberta, on June 17/18. 2016. This is with a 105mm telephoto and the Nikon D750, and is the first frame of a 1000-frame time-lapse sequence. However, as the Sun dropped farther below the horizon the clouds did lose illumination and faded, from the top down.

And they move very slowly, as this time-lapse from June 17 shows.

Readers living at a latitude between 45° and 55° are best situated to see “NLCs.” From farther south the clouds will be below the horizon. From farther north the sky may be too bright with twilight and the angle of illumination wrong for optimum viewing.

For more information, check the Wikipedia article

Unlike auroras, there is no predicting when they might appear. Some nights when it is clear where you are, no NLCs appear. Perhaps that’s because of cloud much farther north blocking the path of light from the Sun on the other side of the planet to the clouds on our side of the Earth.

But by the end of July NLC season is coming to an end as the Sun drops farther below the northern horizon at night, and the nights get darker.

So over the next four weeks, look low in the north for night shining clouds.

— Alan, June 27, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

 

Mars and the Milky Way at Emerald Lake


The Milky Way over Emerald Lake, Yoho

The nights were short and never fully dark, but early June provided a run of clear nights in the Rockies to enjoy Mars and the Milky Way.

Weather prospects looked good for a run of five nights last week so I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot nightscapes from Banff and, as shown here, in Yoho National Park across the Continental Divide in B.C.

The lead image above is a sweeping panorama at Emerald Lake, one of the jewels of the Rockies. Though taken at 1:30 a.m., the sky still isn’t dark, but has a glow to the north that lasts all night near summer solstice. Even so, the sky was dark enough to reveal the Milky Way arching across the sky.

The mountain at centre is Mt. Burgess, home of the famous Burgess Shale Fossils, an incredible collection of fossilized creatures from the Cambrian explosion.

The image is a panoramic stitch of 24 segments but cropped in quite a bit from the original, and all shot with an iPano motorized panning unit. Each exposure was 30 seconds at f/2.2 with the Sigma 24mm lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 4000. One short exposure of the lodge was blended in to reduce its light glare. The original, stitched with PTGui software, is 15,000 x 9,000 pixels.

The Milky Way at Emerald Lake, Yoho
The Milky Way over the side pond at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, BC., from the bridge to the Lodge. This is a stack of 8 x 25-second exposures for the foreground (mean combined to smooth noise), and one untracked exposure for the sky (to minimize trailing), all at f/2.8 with the Rokinon 14mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 6400.

The view above, a single frame image, shows the view to the south as the Milky Way and galactic centre descend toward the horizon over the south end of the lake. Lights from the Lodge illuminate the trees.

Reflections of Mars at Emerald Lake
Mars, at right, reflected in Emerald Lake at twilight in Yoho National Park, BC, June 7, 2016. This is a single 6-second exposure at f/3.2 with the Sigma 20mm lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 100.

The next night (above) I was at the same spot to shoot Mars in the deepening twilight, and reflected in the calm waters of Emerald Lake, with Cathedral Peak at left.

Reflections of Cassiopeia at Emerald Lake
This is a vertical panorama of 4 segments, taken with the iPano unit, and with each segment a 30-second exposure at f/2.2 with the Sigma 24mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 4000. Stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.

Another multi-frame panorama, this time sweeping up from the horizon, captures Cassiopeia (the “W”) and the rising autumn constellations reflected in the lake waters.

Vega is at top, Deneb below it, while the stars of Perseus and Pegasus are just rising.

It was a magical two nights in Yoho, a name that means “wonderful!” Both by day and by night.

— Alan, June 9, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Glows and Streaks in the Spring Sky


The Spring Sky over the Pioneer Farmstead

How many sources of skyglow can you pick out here?

There are at least five:

• the Milky Way (at left),

• green airglow (below the Milky Way),

• all too prevalent light pollution (especially reflected off the clouds coming in from the west at right),

• lingering blue twilight across the north (at left and right), common in May and June from my northern latitude,

• and even a touch of aurora right at the northern horizon at far left.

In this scene from May 28, the Milky Way arches over an abandoned pioneer farmstead from the 1930s and 40s near my home in southern Alberta.

Mars (very bright and in some clouds) and Saturn shine at lower centre, while Jupiter is the bright object in clouds at right just above the old house.

Arcturus is the brightest star here at upper right of centre, made more obvious here by shining through the clouds. The Big Dipper, distorted by the map projection used in the this panorama, is at upper right.

Technical: This is a 360° horizon to zenith panorama taken with the iPano motorized panning unit, using the 24mm lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400, for a stitch of 28 panels, in 4 tiers of 7 segments each. Stitched with PTGui. South is at centre, north to either end. The original is 25,700 x 7,700 pixels.

Just after I shot the panorama I captured the International Space Station passing directly overhead in one of several passes this night.

ISS Pass #2 (May 28/29, 2016)
The second Space Station pass of May 28/29, 2016, at 1:40 a.m., with cloud moving in adding the glows to all the stars. Taken with the 8mm fish-eye lens from home. The Big Dipper is high in the west at right. Mars is bright at bottom, to the south. Several other satellites are in the sky as well. This is a stack of 3 exposures, each 2.5-minutes with the camera on the Star Adventurer tracker.

At this time of year the ISS is lit all night by the Sun that never sets for the astronauts. We see the ISS cross the sky not once but several times in a night at 90-minute intervals.

While the sky near solstice is never dark at my latitude, it does have its compensations and attractions.

— Alan, May 29, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Mars Bright in the Spring Sky


Spring Sky over the Badlands Panorama

Mars is now shining brightly in the evening sky, as close and as bright as it has been since 2005.

Look southeast to south after dark and you’ll see a brilliant reddish “star.” That’s Mars, now at opposition, and retrograding slowly westward each night through Scorpius into Libra.

My image above captures Mars set in the entirety of the northern spring sky, complete with the arch of the Milky Way, twilight glows to the north (at left), some satellite trails …

… and Mars itself as the brightest object just right of centre shining above the landscape of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Just to the left of Mars is Saturn, while below both is the star Antares in Scorpius, for a neat triangle of objects. Jupiter is the bright object in Leo at far right.

Technical: I shot the lead image on the evening of May 25. It is a 360° and horizon-to-zenith panorama stitched from 44 images, taken in 4 tiers of 11 panels each, shot with a motorized iOptron iPano mount. I used a 35mm Canon lens at f/2.8 for 30-second exposures with the Canon 6D at ISO 6400. I stitched the images with PTGui. The original image is a monster 32,500 pixels wide by 8,300 pixels high.

Mars at Opposition Rising over the Badlands
This is a stitch in Adobe Camera Raw of 9 segments, each with the Canon 35mm lens at f/5.6 and Canon 6D at ISO 800.

I shot the panorama above earlier in the evening, when Mars and Saturn were just rising in the southeast at left, and the sky to the northwest at right was still bright with twilight.

This shows the geometry of Mars at opposition. It lies opposite the Sun and is so rising at sunset and directly opposite the sunset point. The Sun, Earth and Mars are in a straight line across the solar system with Earth in the middle and as close to Mars as we get.

Actual date of opposition was May 22 but Earth is closest to Mars on May 30. That’s when it will look largest in a telescope. But to the unaided eye it appears as a bright red star.

Whether with eye or telescope, have a look!

— Alan, May 27 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Spectacular Skies at a Lighthouse


Lighthouse Beams by the Southern Cross

The sky and sea present an ever-changing panorama of light and colour from the view point of an Australian lighthouse.

Last week I spent a wonderful four nights at the Smoky Cape Lighthouse, in Hat Head National Park, on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales. I was after panoramas of seascapes and cloudscapes, and the skies didn’t disappoint.

At sunset, as below, the sky to the east glowed with twilight colours, with the bright clouds providing a beautiful contrast against the darkening sky. The kangaroo at far right was an added bonus as he hopped into frame just at the right time.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse at Twilight Panorama
A 270° or so panorama of the Smoky Cape Lighthouse near South West Rocks on Trial Bay, NSW, Australia, and in Hat Head National Park. This is a stitch of 12 segments, each a single 1.6-second exposure at f/8 with the 35mm lens in landscape orientation. Stitching with Adobe Camera Raw.

At sunrise, the Sun came up over the ocean to the east, providing a stunning scene to begin the day.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse Sunrise Panorama
I shot this at dawn on April 28, 2016. This is a 7-section panorama with each section being a 5-exposure HDR stack, all stacked and stitched in Adobe Camera Raw.

The Smoky Cape Lighthouse was lit up for the first time in 1891. It was staffed for decades by three keepers and their families who lived in the cottages visible in the panoramas above. They tended to the kerosene lamps, to cleaning the lenses, and to winding the weight-driven clockwork mechanism that needed resetting every two hours to keep the reflector and lens assembly turning. By day, they would draw the curtains across to keep the Sun from heating up the optics.

Lighthouse Lenses

The huge optical assembly uses a set of nine lenses, each a massive fresnel lens, to shot focused beams out to sea. The optics produce a trio of beams, in three sets.

Each night you could see the nine beams sweeping across the sky and out to sea, producing a series of three quick flashes followed by a pause, then another three flashes, the characteristic pattern of the Smoky Bay Light. Each lighthouse has its own flashing pattern.

Lighthouse Beams by the Southern Cross
Beams from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse in the twilight sky, beaming out beside the stars of the Southern Cross and the Pointers (Alpha and Beta Centauri) below, rising into the southeast sky in the deepening blue twilight. This is a single 0.6-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 6400.

The lead photo, repeated above, shows the beams in the twilight, with the stars of the Southern Cross as a backdrop. Three beams are aimed toward the camera while the other two sets of beam trios are shooting away out to sea.

The image below shows the beam trio shining out over the water toward one of the dangerous rocks off shore.

Lighthouse Beams over the Starry Sea
The trio of beams from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse scanning across the sea and sky in an exposure shot as short as possible to freeze the beams. This is a single 1.6-second exposure at f/1.4 and ISO 12800, wide and fasrt to keep the beams from blurring too much.

The Lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1962, when staff was reduced. Then in the 1980s all lighthouses were automated and staff were no longer needed.

While we might romanticize the life of a lighthouse keeper, it was a lonely and hard life. Keepers were usually married, perhaps with children. While that may have lessened the isolation, it was still a difficult life for all.

Today, some of the cottages have been converted into rentable rooms. I stayed in the former house of the main light keeper, filled with memorabilia from the glory days of staffed lighthouses.

Southern Cross and Pointers from Smoky Cape
The Southern Cross, Crux, and the Pointer Stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, above in the moonlight of the waning gibbous Moon before dawn, from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse looking southwest, on the coast of New South Wales, Australia. The Cape was named by James Cook in 1770 for the fires he saw on shore here. This is a single 5-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 1000.

The image above takes in the Southern Cross over the moonlit beach in the dawn twilight.

The last image below is my final astrophoto taken on my current trip to Australia, a 360° panorama of the Milky Way and Zodiacal Light from the back garden of the Lighthouse overlooking the beach at Hat Head National Park.

Milky Way over Smoky Cape Panorama
A 360° panorama and from horizon to zenith of the southern sky and Milky Way from Smoky Cape and the grounds of the Lighthouse and Cottages. The panorama is a stitch of 9 segments, each shot with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens in portrait orientation, and at f/2.8 with the Canon 6D at ISO 3200. All exposures 1 minute, untracked on a tripod. Stitched in PTGui using equirectangular projection.

It’s been a superb trip, with over half a terabyte of images shots and processed! The last few blogs have featured some of the best, but many more are on the drives for future posts.

Now, back to Canada and spring!

— Alan, May 4, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

 

Moon of the Austral Sky


Sunset and Waxing Moon over AAT Dome

When visiting southern latitudes nothing disorients a northern hemisphere astronomer more than seeing our familiar Moon turned “the wrong way!”

With the Moon now dominating the night sky, my photo attention in Australia turns to it as my celestial subject.

It’s wonderful to see the Moon as a crescent phase in the evening sky, but now flipped around so it looks like the Moon we see from home up north when it is a waning crescent in the morning.

However, the lead image above actually shows the waxing crescent in the evening. It shines above the volcanic hills near Warrumbungles National Park, with the added silhouette of the dome of the Australian Astronomical Telescope, the largest optical telescope in Australia.

After a lifetime of seeing the Moon in its northerly orientation, seeing the austral Moon throws off your sense of time and direction. Are we looking west in the evening? Or east in the morning? The Moon just doesn’t make sense!

Full Moon with Glitter Path
This is a two-exposure composite: a long exposure for the sky and ocean, and a short exposure for the disk of the Moon itself, to preserve some detail in the disk, specifically the mare areas to show the face of the Moon and not an overexposed white disk. Both with the 135mm telephoto and Canon 6D, from Woolgoolga, NSW.

Then there’s the Full Moon. It rises in the east, as does the Sun. But like the Sun, the “down under Moon” moves from right to left across the northern, not southern sky. And the familiar “Man in the Moon” figure is upside down, as seen above.

The photo above is from Friday night, and shows the Full Moon rising in the northeast over the Pacific Ocean.

Golden Glitter Path of the Moon
The apogee Full Moon of April 22, 2016 rising over the Pacific Ocean and lighting the waters with a golden glitter path of reflected moonlight. I shot this from the Woolgoolga Headlands viewpoint, with the 135mm telephoto and Canon 6D. This is a high dynamic range stack of 5 exposures to compress the range in brightness. Even so, the Moon itself is still overexposed.

This “HDR” image above from earlier in the evening captures the golden glitter path of moonlight on the ocean waves. I photographed these Full Moon scenes from the Headlands viewpoint at Woolgoolga, a great spot for panoramic seascapes.

The Full Moon this night was the apogee Full Moon of 2016 – the smallest and most distant Full Moon of the year, the opposite of a “supermoon.”

Gibbous Moon Over Upper Ebor Falls
This is a high dynamic range stack of 7 exposures to preserve the range in brightness between the bright sky and Moon, and the dark ground in the dim twilight.

Earlier in the week I was inland, high on the New England Tablelands in New South Wales. This image shows the waxing gibbous Moon in the evening twilight over Ebor Falls on the Guy Fawkes River, one of the few waterfalls on the famed Waterfall Way in New Soith Wales that has water flowing year round.

— Alan, April 24, 2016 / © 2016 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

Triangle of Planets in the Twilight


Mars, Venus and Jupiter (in that order from top to bottom) in a triangle, in conjunction, at an old farmstead near Vulcan, Alberta, in the morning twilight, October 28, 2015. Illumination is from the nearly Full Hunter’s Moon in the west. The trio of planets were in Leo in a fine conjunction not to be repeated until November 21, 2111. Almost all of Leo is visible here, with Regulus, the constellation’s brightest star, just to the right of the windmill blades at top. This is a stack of 6 exposures for the ground, mean combined to smooth noise, and one exposure for the sky, all  10 seconds at f/4 and ISO 800 with the Canon 6D and Canon 24mm lens.

This was the trio of planets at their best in the morning sky. 

On the morning of October 28, Mars, Venus and Jupiter formed a neat isosceles triangle in the twilight. Venus, the brightest, was in the middle, with Mars below and Jupiter above. The grouping shone amid the stars of Leo, with its brightest star, Regulus, above the windmill in the lead image above. The rest of Leo lies above the planets.

To capture the scene I drove west at 5 am to a farmstead I had shot at before, in June, to capture Venus and Jupiter, also then in Leo near Regulus, but in the evening sky looking west. Click here for that blog post from mid-June.

This morning, the Moon, just past full as the annual Hunter’s Moon, shone in the west off camera lighting the landscape.

Mars, Venus and Jupiter (in that order from top to bottom) in a triangle, in conjunction, over an old red barn near Vulcan, Alberta, in the morning twilight, October 28, 2015. Illumination is from the nearly Full Hunter’s Moon in the west. The trio of planets were in Leo in a fine conjunction not to be repeated until November 21, 2111.  This is a stack of 6 exposures for the ground, mean combined to smooth noise, and one exposure for the sky, all  10 seconds at f/4 and ISO 800 with the Canon 6D and Canon 24mm lens.

The dawn sky colours and the moonlit red barn made for a fine colour contrast.

After today, the planet configuration breaks up, as Venus descends to meet Mars on November 2 and 3, while Jupiter climbs higher. But another great morning sight awaits on November 7 when the waning crescent Moon will shine near the Venus-Mars pairing, with Jupiter above.

The conjunction of Mars, Venus and Jupiter (from bottom to top) in the dawn sky over the misty waters of Lake Macgregor in southern Alberta, on October 28, 2015. This is a single 1/4-second exposure at f/4 and ISO 400 with the Canon 6D and 24mm Canon lens.

On the way home I stopped at fog-bound Lake MacGregor to capture the planets in a brightening dawn sky over the misty waters.

This morning the three planets lay just 4.5 degrees apart, close enough to frame in high-power binoculars.

We won’t see these three planets this close to each other in a darkened sky — as opposed to being so close to the Sun we really can’t see them — until November 21, 2111.

Be sure to catch the dawn show while it lasts!

— Alan, October 28, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Stunning Gathering of Worlds


The conjunction of Venus (brightest), Jupiter (above Venus) and Mars (dimmer below Venus & Jupiter) looking east in the morning twilight on October 25, 2015, as seen from the west shore of Lake Annette, in Jasper National Park, Alberta. The mountain is the Watchtower. Morning mist covers the lake waters. Haze in the sky adds the natural glows around the planets — no filters were empolyed here. This is a layered stack of 4 images: 10, 5, 2.5 and 1.3-second exposures, with the longer exposure for the ground and the shorter exposures adding the sky to maintain tonal balance between the dark ground and bright sky. All with the 24mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 400. It was not possible to capture the reflection of the planets in the water as they were too high in the sky.

Skies were clear at dawn this morning for a fabulous view of the rare conjunction of three planets. And I could not have been at a more photogenic site.

This was the view before dawn on October 25, as brilliant Venus and dimmer Jupiter shone just a degree apart in the dawn sky. Mars, much fainter, shines just below the close duo. The three planets could easily be contained in a high power binocular field.

Not until November 2111 will these three planets be this close together again in a darkened sky.

Indeed, Venus could not have been higher, as it is just now reaching its maximum elongation from the Sun, placing it high in the eastern morning sky.

A panorama of roughly 120° showing a star- and planet-filled sky in the dawn twilight over Lake Annette in Jasper National Park, Alberta, on the morning of October 25, 2015.  At left, to the east, are the two bright planets, Venus (brightest) and Jupiter in a close conjunction 1° apart (and here almost merging into one glow), plus reddish Mars below them, all in Leo, with the bright star Regulus above them. Right of centre, to the south, is Orion and Canis Major, with the bright star Sirius low in the south. At upper right are the stars of Taurus, including Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. Venus was near greatest elongation on this morning.  No special filter was employed here — the hazy planets and stars and colourful star images comes naturally from a high haze over the sky this morning. It bloats the images of Venus and Jupiter so they almost merge.  The stars are partly reflected in the waters, with rising mist in the distance on the lake. Distant Whistler peak below Orion is lit by lights from the Jasper Townsite. The site is the shore of Lake Annette near the Jasper Park Lodge and site of the annual star party held as part of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. I shot this scene the morning after the 2015 Festival. This is a panorama of 8 segments, shot with the 24mm lens mounted vertically (portrait), each for 25 seconds at f/2.8 with the Canon 6D at ISO 3200. Stitched with Photoshop, with some vertical scaling to reduce the distortion introduced by the pan mapping process.

I shot from the shores of Lake Annette, site of one of the major events, the Friday star party, at the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival which just concluded, in Jasper National Park, Alberta. The Festival celebrates the Park’s status as one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves.

The hotels and restaurants were full with stargazers from around the world, making the Festival a huge success, both educationally and financially. I was honoured to be able to present some of the public and school talks.

But this dawn sky was a fine way to end a fabulous weekend of astronomy.

The image above is a panorama in the twilight, sweeping from the planets in the east, to the winter stars and constellations, including iconic Orion, in the south and southwest.

A panorama of roughly 180° showing a star- and planet-filled sky in the pre-dawn hours over Lake Annette in Jasper National Park, Alberta, on the morning of October 25, 2015.  At left, to the east, are the two bright planets, Venus (brightest) and Jupiter in a close conjunction 1° apart (and here almost merging into one glow), plus reddish Mars below them, all in Leo, with the bright star Regulus above them. At centre, to the south, is Orion and Canis Major, with the bright star Sirius low in the south. At upper right are the stars of Taurus, including Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster. Venus was near greatest elongation on this morning.  The Milky Way runs vertically at centre, between Sirius and Procyon, the bright star above centre. The faint glow of morning Zodiacal Light rises in a diagonal band at left in the east through the planets and stars of Leo and into Cancer and the Beehive Cluster at top left.  No special filter was employed here — the hazy planets and stars and colourful star images comes naturally from a high haze over the sky this morning. It bloats the images of Venus and Jupiter so they almost merge.  The stars are partly reflected in the waters with wind distorting some of the reflections. Some green airglow appears in the south as well. Distant Whistler peak below Orion is lit by lights from the Jasper Townsite. The site is the shore of Lake Annette near the Jasper Park Lodge and site to the annual star party held as part of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. I shot this scene the morning after the 2015 Festival. This is a panorama of 12 segments, shot with the 24mm lens mounted vertically (portrait), each for 30 seconds at f/2.8 with the Canon 6D at ISO 3200. Stitched with Photoshop, with some vertical scaling to reduce the distortion introduced by the pan mapping process.

Earlier in the morning, before twilight began to brighten the sky, I shot another even wider panorama from the south shore of the lake.

In this and other photos, high haze adds the glows around the stars and planets naturally. No special effects filters here!

But Venus and Jupiter are so close and bright their images almost merge into one glow.

Brilliant Venus, in conjunction with dimmer Jupiter above, and with even dimmer Mars below, at left here, on the morning of October 25, 2015 when Venus and Jupiter were only 1° apart.  I shot this from Lake Annette in Jasper National Park before the sky started to brighten with dawn twilight. High haze in the sky adds the glows around the stars and planets, in particular the colored halo around Venus. The mountain is the Watchtower. The site is used as the main star party location for the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival. This is a 30-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and as ISO 1600 with the Canon 6D.

Here they are, with Mars below, shining in the dark sky over the Watchtower peak and over the misty waters of Lake Annette.

Keep an eye on the sky at dawn, as these three worlds will be close to each other for the next few mornings. See my earlier blog for details.

— Alan, October 25, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! — Planet Dance in the Dawn


Oct 17 Dawn Sky

Watch a trio of planets converge in the dawn sky. 

You might have already seen Venus shining brightly in the morning sky. And perhaps you’ve seen a slightly less bright object below it. That’s Jupiter.

But there’s a third, even dimmer planet accompanying Venus and Jupiter — reddish Mars. On the morning of Saturday, October 17 (chart above ⬆️) Mars and Jupiter pass just 1/2 degree apart, for a mismatched double “star” at dawn.

The planets put on an even better show in the following 10 days as all three converge to form a tight triangle of worlds in the morning sky.

Oct 23 Dawn Sky

On October 23 ⬆️, Venus, Mars and Jupiter appear in a close grouping just 4.5 degrees apart, close enough to each other to be easily contained in the field of typical binoculars, the circle shown in these charts.

Oct 25 Dawn Sky

Two mornings later, on October 25 ⬆️, Venus and Jupiter are at their closest apparent separation, just 1 degree apart, for a brilliant double “star” in the morning twilight. If you miss this morning, on the next morning, October 24, the two planets appear about the same distance apart as well.

Oct 28 Dawn Sky

By October 28 ⬆️, the three planets have switched positions, as Venus drops lower but Jupiter climbs higher. But they again appear in a triangle, 4.5 degrees wide.

The motion you’re seeing from day to day is due to a combination of the planets’ own orbital motions around the Sun, as well as our planet’s motion.

Keep in mind, the planets aren’t really close together in space. They lie tens, if not hundreds, of millions of kilometres apart. They appear close to each other in our sky because they lie along the same line of sight.

Do try to get up early enough — between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. should do it — to look east to see the changing configuration of planets as they dance at dawn. Binoculars will provide the best view.

This is a rare sight! We won’t see these three planets this close to each other in a darkened sky until November 20, 2111!

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

The Moon and Four Planets


The waning crescent Moon, lit by Earthshine, with four planets on the morning of October 9, 2015, with the planets from bottom left to top right: • Mercury, just above the horizon between the low cloud bands, at lower left • Jupiter, bright at centre • Mars, reddish and above Jupiter • Venus, brightest at upper right and in some thin cloud.  The bright star Regulus in Leo is above and to the left of Venus. This is a blend of four exposures: a long 4-second exposure for most of the sky and ground and shorter 2, 1, amd 1/2 second exposures for the bright twilight area and around the Moon and Venus, to prevent those areas fro being blown out. Blending is with masks, not HDR. All with the Canon 6D at ISO 400 and 50mm Sigma lens at f/2.5

The Moon appeared along with four planets in the dawn sky.

The sky was filled with planets this morning, as all four of the closest planets to the Sun appeared along the ecliptic in the morning sky. Plus there’s a fifth planet in the picture – Earth.

Here, the waning crescent Moon, lit by Earthshine, appears with four planets on the morning of October 9, 2015, with the planets from bottom left to top right:

• Mercury, just above the horizon between the low cloud bands, at lower left
• Jupiter, bright at centre
• Mars, reddish and above Jupiter
• Venus, brightest at upper right and in some thin cloud.

The bright star Regulus in Leo is above and to the left of Venus.

The waning crescent Moon, lit by Earthshine, with four planets on the morning of October 9, 2015, with the planets from bottom left to top right: • Mercury, just above the horizon between the low cloud bands, at lower left • Jupiter, bright at centre • Mars, reddish and above Jupiter • Venus, brightest at upper right and in some thin cloud.  The bright star Regulus in Leo is above and to the left of Venus. This is a blend of four exposures: a long 4-second exposure for most of the sky and ground and shorter 2, 1, amd 1/2 second exposures for the bright twilight area and around the Moon and Venus, to prevent those areas fro being blown out. Blending is with masks, not HDR. All with the Canon 6D at ISO 400 and 50mm Sigma lens at f/2.5

Above is an unlabeled version of the image.

TECHNICAL:

It’s a blend of four exposures: a long 4-second exposure for most of the sky and ground, plus shorter 2, 1, and 1/2 second exposures for the bright twilight area and around the Moon and Venus, to prevent those areas from being blown out. Blending is with masks, not HDR. All were shot with the Canon 6D at ISO 400 and 50mm Sigma lens at f/2.5.

– Alan, October 9, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Dawn Sky Delight – the Real Scene


A gathering of planets in the dawn sky on October 8, 2015, with - from bottom to top: Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon, with the star Regulus in Leo left of Venus.  This is a 15-second exposure with shorter exposure blended in for the area around Venus and the Moon to avoid them overexposing too much. So not a true HDR, but using masking to blend the short exposure elements.

The Moon, planets and Northern lights provided a wonderful show in the dawn sky.

What a superb scene this was. On October 8 the waning crescent Moon shone near Venus (brightest) and Regulus, with red Mars and bright Jupiter paired below.

If that wasn’t enough, as the wide-angle panorama below shows, the Northern Lights were also ending a night of performance, with an arc along the horizon and pulsing waves rising up the sky to the northeast near the planet grouping.

A panorama of the pre-dawn sky on October 8, 2015, with a sky full of wonders: • the Northern Lights, or aurora • The Big Dipper above the aurora, somewhat distorted by the panorama projection • at centre, a conjunction and line-up of planets, with from bottom to top: Jupiter, Mars and Venus, with the bright waning crescent Moon beside Venus at top, and also beside the star Regulus in Leo • The Beehive star cluster well above the planet grouping • Orion and Canis Major in the winter sky at right with the Milky Way. I shot this from home, using the Canon 6D and 24mm lens on a fixed tripoid (no tracking), for 7 segments, each a 30-second exposure at f/2.2 and at ISO 1250. Stitched in Photoshop.

The panorama also sweeps right, to the south, to take in the winter Milky Way and constellations of Orion and Canis Major.  Click on the image to bring it up full screen.

The Moon will appear near Mars and Jupiter on the morning of October 9, and then the three planets will begin to converge for a tight gathering for a few mornings around October 25.

Be sure to wake early for the dawn sky show that continues all this month!

– Alan, October 8, 2015 / © 2015  / www.amazingsky.com

A Super Eclipse of the Moon


The Full Moon rises in partial eclipse over the sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the evening of September 27, 2015. This was the night of a total lunar eclipse, which was in progress in its initial partial phase as the Moon rose this night. The blue band on the horizon containing the Moon is the shadow of Earth on our atmosphere, while the dark bite taken out of the lunar disk is the shadow of Earth on the Moon. The pink band above is the Belt of Venus. This is a two-image panorama stitched to extend the scene vertically to take in more sky and ground than one frame could accommodate. Both shot with the 200mm lens and 1.4x extender, on the Canon 5DMkII.

I could not have asked for a more perfect night for a lunar eclipse. It doesn’t get any better!

On Sunday, September 27, the Moon was eclipsed for the fourth time in two years, the last in a “tetrad” of total lunar eclipses that we’ve enjoyed at six-month intervals since April 2014. This was the best one by far.

The Full Moon rising in partial eclipse on the night of September 27, 2015, night of a total eclipse that began with the partial phase in progress at moonrise from my location. The pink Belt of Venus colours the sky at top. The Moon sits in the blue shadow of the Earth, which also partly obscures the disk of the Moon. I shot this from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta. This is through the TMB 92mm refractor for a focal length of 550mm using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 1/250 second.
This is through the TMB 92mm refractor for a focal length of 500mm using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 1/250 second.

The timing was perfect for me in Alberta, with the Moon rising in partial eclipse (above), itself a fine photogenic site.

In the top image you can see the rising Moon embedded in the blue band of Earth’s shadow on our atmosphere, and also entering Earth’s shadow on its lunar disk. This was a perfect alignment, as lunar eclipses must be.

For my earthly location I drove south to near the Montana border, to a favourite location, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, to view the eclipse over the sandstone formations of the Milk River.

The image below shows a screen shot of my site plan and viewing angles using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app.

IMG_2515

More importantly, weather forecasts for the area called for perfectly clear skies, a relief from the clouds forecast – and which did materialize – at home to the north, and would have been a frustration to say the least. Better to drive 3 hours!

This was the second lunar eclipse I viewed from Writing-on-Stone, having chased clear skies to here in the middle of the night for the October 8, 2014 eclipse.

Me, in a selfie, observing a total eclipse of the Moon with binoculars on September 27, 2015, from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta. I had three cameras set up to shoot the eclipse and a fourth to shoot the scene like this. The night was perfect for the eclipse. The Moon is in totality here, with the stars and Moon trailed slightly from the long exposure.

I shot with three cameras: one doing a time-lapse through the telescope, one doing a wide-angle time-lapse of the Moon rising, and the third for long-exposure tracked shots during totality, of the Moon and Milky Way.

The Moon in total eclipse on September 27, 2015 – the “supermoon” eclipse – shining red over the Milk River and sandstone formations at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, with the Milky Way in full view in the sky darkened by the lunar eclipse. The Sweetgrass Hills of Montana are to the south. The centre of the Milky Way is at far right. The Andromeda Galaxy is at upper left. The Moon was in Pisces below the Square of Pegasus. It was a perfectly clear night, ideal conditions for shooting the eclipse and stars. This is a stack of 5 x 2-minute tracked exposures for the sky and 5 x 4-minute untracked exposures for the ground to smooth noise. The Moon itself comes from a short 30-second exposure to avoid overexposing the lunar disk. Illumination of the ground is from starlight. All exposures with the 15mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker.
This is a stack of 5 x 2-minute tracked exposures for the sky and 5 x 4-minute untracked exposures for the ground to smooth noise. The Moon itself comes from a short 30-second exposure to avoid overexposing the lunar disk. Illumination of the ground is from starlight. All exposures with the 15mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker.

That image is above. It shows the eclipsed Moon at left, with the Milky Way at right, over the Milk River valley and with the Sweetgrass Hills in the distance.

The sky was dark only during the time of totality. As the Moon emerged from Earth’s shadow the sky and landscape lit up again, a wonderful feature of lunar eclipses.

While in the above shot I did layer in a short exposure of the eclipsed Moon into the long exposure of the sky, it is still to accurate scale, unlike many dubious eclipse images I see where giant moons have been pasted into photos, sometimes at least in the right place, but often not.

Lunar eclipses bring out the worst in Photoshop techniques.

The total eclipse of the Moon of September 27, 2015, in closeup through a telescope, at mid-totality with the Moon at its darkest and deepest into the umbral shadow, in a long exposure to bring out the stars surrounding the dark red moon. This was also the Harvest Moon for 2015 and was the perigee Full Moon, the closest Full Moon of 2015. This is a single exposure taken through the TMB 92mm refractor at f/5.5 for 500 mm focal length using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 8 seconds, the longest I shot during totality. The telescope was on the SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount tracking at the lunar rate.
This is a single exposure taken through the TMB 92mm refractor at f/5.5 for 500 mm focal length using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 8 seconds, the longest I shot during totality. The telescope was on the SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount tracking at the lunar rate.

Above is a single closeup image taken through the telescope at mid-totality. I exposed for 8 seconds to bring out the colours of the shadow and the background stars, as faint as they were with the Moon in star-poor Pisces.

I shot a couple of thousand frames and processing of those into time-lapses will take a while longer, in particular registering and aligning the 700 I shot at 15-second intervals through the telescope. They show the Moon entering, passing through, then exiting the umbra, while it moves against the background stars.

Me celebrating a successful total eclipse of the Moon during the final partial phases, observed and shot from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 27, 2015. I shot with 3 cameras, with a 4th to record the scene. Two of the cameras at centre are still shooting time-lapses of final partial phases. The camera at right was used to take long tracked exposures of the Milky Way during totality. The telescope at left was used just to look!

So I was a happy eclipse chaser! I managed to see all four of the lunar eclipses in the current tetrad, two from Alberta, one from Australia, and one from Monument Valley.

With the latest success, I’ve had my fill of lunar eclipses for a while. Good thing, as the next one is not until January 31, 2018, before dawn in the dead of winter.

With the mild night, great setting, and crystal clear skies, this “supermoon” eclipse could not have been better. It was a super eclipse.

– Alan, September 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Morning Star, the Milky Way, and the Zodiacal Light


Venus shines brightly, and nearly at its brightest at magnitude -4.7, in the dawn sky on a very frosty morning at 5 am, on September 17, 2015, from home in southern Alberta. Venus appears amid the faint glow of the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “False Dawn,” stretching vertically from the dawn horizon in the east, up and to the right, and reaching the Milky Way that runs down the frame from top centre to bottom right. Orion and the winter stars shine in the Milky Way, with Sirius above the trees at lower right. The Beehive Cluster, M44, appears as the small group of stars above Venus. The Pleiades, M45, is at top right. Mars is the brightest object left of Venus, with the bright star Regulus just below it and rising in the east. The stars of the Big Dipper are at far left at the edge of the frame. The sky is beginning to brighten with the real glow of morning.  This is a stack of 4 x 2-minute exposures, tracked and mean combine stacked, for the sky and 2 x 2-minute exposures, untracked and stacked, for the ground to minimize blurring in the starlit ground. The Canon 6D was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker, shooting at ISO 1250 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/3.5. The stacking with a mean combine stack mode smooths noise in both sky and ground.

Venus, now at its brightest as a morning star, shines amid the subtle glow of the Zodiacal Light. 

This was the scene this morning, September 17, on a very frosty dawn at 5 a.m. from my backyard in southern Alberta.

Here, Venus shines nearly as bright as it can be, at magnitude -4.7, in the dawn sky as a brilliant “morning star.”

Venus appears amid the faint glow of the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “False Dawn,” stretching diagonally from the dawn horizon in the east, up and to the right, and reaching the Milky Way that runs vertically down the frame from top centre to bottom right.

Orion and the winter stars shine in the Milky Way, with Sirius above the trees at lower right.

The Beehive Cluster, M44, appears as the small group of stars above Venus. The Pleiades, M45, is at top right.

Mars is the brightest object left of Venus, with the bright star Regulus just below it and rising in the east. The stars of the Big Dipper are at far left at the edge of the frame.

The sky is beginning to brighten with the real glow of morning. It was a marvellous dawn sky delight.

Technical notes:

This is a stack of 4 x 2-minute exposures, tracked and mean-combine stacked, for the sky and 2 x 2-minute exposures, untracked and stacked, for the ground to minimize blurring in the starlit ground. The Canon 6D was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker, shooting at ISO 1250 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/3.5. The stacking with a mean combine stack mode smooths noise in both sky and ground.

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

Worlds Amid the Sunset Clouds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus low in the sunset colours of a July summer evening over the waters of Little Fish Lake, in southern Alberta. Jupiter is at upper right but much fainter.  This is a 3-segment panorama taken with the Canon 60Da and 18-200mm Sigma zoom.

The thin waxing Moon shines near Venus above the colourful clouds of sunset.

Tonight, July 18, was the evening of a close conjunction of the crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky. From my latitude at 50° North, the conjunction was going to be low, and at risk of clouds.

In this case, the clouds added to the scene as they lit up with sunset colours.

You can see the Moon and Venus at centre, while fainter Jupiter is at upper right, and perhaps not visible on screen at this scale.

The location is one I used last month for the Venus-Jupiter meeting, Little Fish Lake and Provincial Park, north of Drumheller. It’s a quiet spot. This Saturday night there were just three families there camping.

I shot this telephoto panorama with my red-sensitive Canon 60Da, which is designed to record red nebulas well, but does a nice job on punching up sunsets, too!

Alas, the clouds that painted the sky so nicely here, moved in as the worlds set lower. I wasn’t able to shoot them closer to the horizon amid the deep colours of a late twilight. But I’ll settle for this image.

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

Waterton Lakes in the Twilight


The waxing gibbous Moon over Upper Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta with the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel in the distance, on a calm evening with still waters, rare in Waterton. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens, shot from Driftwood Beach.

Happy Canada Day! From one of the most scenic places in the country.

I spent a wonderful four days and nights last week at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, with near perfect weather conditions.

For one, the infamous winds of Waterton weren’t blowing, allowing me to shoot the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel reflected in the calm waters of Middle Waterton Lake at Driftwood Beach, with the waxing Moon above in the twilight sky.

Earlier in the evening, I was at the Maskinonge Overlook shooting some video for upcoming tutorials. At sunset I shot this image, below, of the Moon above the alpenglow of the last rays of sunlight.

The rising waxing gibbous Moon in the sunset sky over Maskinonge Wetlands at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, June 2015. The last rays of sunset are illuminating the peaks in alpen glow. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.
The rising waxing gibbous Moon in the sunset sky over Maskinonge Wetlands at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, June 2015. The last rays of sunset are illuminating the peaks in alpen glow. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

Happy Canada Day!

And don’t forget to look west for the ongoing Venus-Jupiter conjunction. I missed the best night last night, June 30 – clouds! But here’s hoping for tonight.

– Alan, July 1, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Double “Star” in the Dusk


Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens. The long exposure blurs the ripples and waves on the water.

Venus and Jupiter now appear as a brilliant “double star” in the evening sky.

This was the scene last night, Sunday, June 28, as the two brightest planets in the sky appeared close to each other in the evening twilight.

I shot the scene from the eastern shore of Little Fish Lake at a Provincial Park in southern Alberta bordering on the Handhills Conservation Area which preserves northern native prairie grasses and an abundance of bird and wildlife species.

The planetary conjunction culminates on June 30, when they will appear very close to each other (less than a Moon diameter apart), creating the best evening conjunction of 2015.

Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. Some subtle crepuscular rays from cloud shadows are at right. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.
Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. Some subtle crepuscular rays from cloud shadows are at right. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

More details are in my previous blog post. 

– Alan, June 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Great Solstice Aurora of 2015


The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

Aurora watchers were on alert! Look up after sunset on June 22 and the sky should be alive with dancing lights.

And the predictions were right.

I headed out to a nearby lake in preparation for seeing and shooting the show. And as soon as the sky got dark enough the Lights were there, despite the bright solstice twilight.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The display reached up to the zenith, as seen in my fish-eye images, like the one below. I shot with three cameras, all shooting time-lapses, with the fish-eye camera recording the scene suitable for projection in a digital planetarium.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display peaked in a substorm with rays converging at the zenith in the darkening twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

However, it was apparent we here in western Canada were seeing the end of the display that had been going on for hours during an intense geomagnetic storm. The aurora was most intense early in the evening, with a minor outburst about 11:30 to 11:45 pm MDT.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display began already active in the twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 960-frame time-lapse, taken with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and with the Canon 60Da, looking north to the perpetual twilight of solstice. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

The aurora then subsided in structure and turned into a more chaotic pulsating display, typical of the end of a sub-storm.

A sky-covering display of Northern Lights, here in the western sky over a distant thunderstorm on the Alberta prairies. I shot this June 22, 2015 on a night with a grand display over most of the sky, with the sky bright with solstice twilight. The site was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake in southern Alberta. This is one frame from a 350-frame time-lapse, taken with the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens,

However, an attraction of this display was its juxtaposition over another storm, an earthly one, flashing lightning to the northwest of me.

The all-sky aurora of June 22, 2015, during a level 7 to 9 geomagnetic storm, as the display brightened again in the middle of the night at about 1 am, with rays converging at the zenith in the perpetual twilight of a solstice night. This is one frame from a 568-frame time-lapse, taken with the 8mm Sigma fish-eye lens at f/3.5 and with the Canon 6D, composed for projection in tilt-dome digital planetariums. I was on the south shore of Crawling Valley Lake and Reservoir in southern Alberta.

By 1 a.m. MDT the display, while still widespread over a large area of the northern sky, had turned into a diffuse glow.

But 60 gigabytes of images later, I headed home. The time-lapse compilation will come later!

– Alan, June 23, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Reflections of Solstice Planets and Northern Lights


The evening planets of Venus (right) and Jupiter (left), to the right of the waxing crescent Moon on the evening of summer sosltice, June 21, 2015. The star Regulus is to the upper right of the Moon, between Jupiter and the Moon. The view is overlooking Crawling Lake in southern Alberta. This is an HDR stack of 5 exposures to retain detail in the bright twilight sky and the dark foreground.

The summer solstice sky was filled with twilight glows, planets, and dancing Northern Lights. 

What a magical night this was. The evening started with the beautiful sight of the waxing crescent Moon lined up to the left of the star Regulus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus (the brightest of the trio), all set in the late evening twilight.

They are all reflected in the calm waters of a prairie lake.

I shot the above photo about 11 p.m., as late a twilight as we’ll get. From here on, after solstice, the Sun sets sooner and the sky darkens earlier.

An aurora display on the evening of summer solstice, June 21, 2015, overlooking Crawling Valley Reservoir in southern Alberta. This is one frame of 360 shot as part of a time-lapse, each frame being 15 seconds at f/2.5 with the 24mm lens, and with the Canon 6D at ISO 3200.

Later, about 12:30 a.m., as predicted by aurora apps and alert services, a display of Northern Lights appeared on cue to the north. It was never very bright to the eye, but the camera nicely picks up the wonderful colours of a solstice aurora.

At this time of year the tall curtains reaching up into space catch the sunlight, with blue tints adding to the usual reds fringing the curtain tops, creating subtle shades of magenta and purple.

The display made for a photogenic subject reflected in the lake waters.

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

A Twilight Triangle of Worlds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and fainter Jupiter above, with the three worlds forming a triangle in the twilight, on the evening of June 19, 2015, from a site north of Bassano, Alberta. This is an HDR stack of 5 exposures to retain detail in the dark foreground and bright twilight sky. This is with the 50mm lens and Canon 6D.

The three brightest objects in the night sky gathered into a tidy triangle in the twilight. 

On Friday night, June 19, I chased around my area of southern Alberta, seeking clear skies to capture the grouping of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus and Jupiter.

My first choice was the Crawling Valley reservoir and lake, to capture the scene over the water. I got there in time to get into position on the east side of the lake, and grab some shots.

The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and dimmer Jupiter above, all over Crawling Lake Reservoir, in southern Alberta, on June 19, 2015. This is a 5-exposure HDR stack to preserve deatails in the dark foreground and bright sky. Shortly after I took this shot clouds from an approaching storm front obscured the planets and the sky.

This was the result, but note the clouds! They were moving in quickly and soon formed a dramatic storm front. By the time I got back to the car and changed lenses, I was just able to grab the panorama below before the clouds engulfed the sky, and the winds were telling me to leave!

A wicker looking storm front moving in quickly over the Crawling Lake Reservoir in southern Alberta. I had just a few minutes to get set up for this after shooting the gathering of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the evening twilight from a nearby spot. Then clouds soon covered the planets. By the time I got back to the car to change lenses the storm front was almost on top of me. I grabbed segments for this panorama using a 24mm lens and Canon 6D. While the outflow winds really picked up, the storm didn’t amount to much and cleared off shortly after as it moved to the east from the northwest.

I drove west toward home, taking a new highway and route back, and finding myself back into clear skies, as the storm headed east. I stopped by the only interesting foreground element I could find to make a composition, the fence, and grabbed the lead photo.

Both it, and the second image, are “HDR” stacks of five exposures, to preserve detail in the dark foreground and bright sky.

It was a productive evening under the big sky of the prairies.

– Alan, June 20, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Solstice Sky at Dinosaur Park


Summer solstice twilight and circumpolar star trails over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. Some bright noctilucent clouds are visible low on the northern horizon. I shot this June 15, 2015 as part of a shoot for a “star trail” video tutorial, as an example image. This is a stack of the first 200 frames of 275 shot for a time-lapse, each 15 seconds at f/2.8 with the Rokinon 14mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 1600. I stacked them in Advanced Stacker Actions with the ultrastreak mode. The foreground comes from a mean blend of the first 8 frames, to smooth noise, and to provide a brighter foreground from early in the sequence when the sky and ground were brighter.

The stars circle the bright northern sky at solstice time over the Alberta Badlands.

I spent the evening and well into the night on Monday shooting at a favourite spot, Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta. The result of about an hour of shooting around midnight is the circumpolar star trail composite at top.

It shows the stars spinning about Polaris, while the northern horizon is rimmed with the bright glow of all-night twilight.

Particularly bright in the northwest are noctilucent clouds low on the horizon. These are high-altitude clouds near the edge of space catching the sunlight streaming over the pole at this time of year.

Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) over the silhouette of the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the night of June 15/16, 2015. The clouds remained low on the northern horizon and faded as the Sun angle dropped through the night but then reappeared in the northwest prior to dawn. The bright star at left is Capella, circumpolar at this latitude of 50° N.  This is a single exposure for 10 seconds at f/3.2 with the 16-35mm lens and at ISO 800 with the Canon 60Da.

They are a phenomenon unique to the weeks around solstice, and for our latitudes on the Canadian Prairies.

The close-up shot above shows their intricate wave-like formation and pearly colour. They faded though the night as the Sun set for the clouds. But they returned in the pre-dawn light.

If you live at mid-northern latitudes, keep an eye out for these clouds of solstice over the next month. It’s now their peak season.

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

Heads Up! – June Moon Passes the Planets


June Moon near Planets

This weekend watch for the waxing crescent Moon passing the “evening stars” of Venus and Jupiter.

On Friday, June 19 look west to see the crescent Moon a binocular field below bright Venus in the evening twilight.

The next night, Saturday, June 20, the Moon appears a little higher and below Jupiter.

On Sunday, June 21, the day of the summer solstice, look for the crescent Moon to the left of the star Regulus in Leo.

Venus and Jupiter are getting closer to each other each night, as they edge toward a very close conjunction on June 30 when they will appear just over a Moon diameter apart in the evening sky.

However, this weekend may bring better photogenic opportunities, with the picturesque crescent Moon near the two brightest planets in the sky.

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

Venus and Jupiter Converging


Venus (right) and Jupiter (centre), on June 12, 2015, as they are converging toward a close conjunction on June 30, 2015. The star Regulus is at left, left of the windmill. Photographed from an old farm yard north of Vulcan, Alberta. This is an HDR-stack of 3 exposures to record detail in the ground and sky. Shot with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

Each night, Venus and Jupiter are converging closer, heading toward conjunction on June 30.

This was Venus (right) and Jupiter (centre) with Regulus at left, in a cloudy twilight sky on Friday, June 12, as Venus and Jupiter converge toward their close conjunction in the evening sky on June 30.

Be sure to watch each night as the two brightest planets in the sky creep closer and closer together. Mark June 19 and 20 on your calendar, as that’s when the waxing crescent Moon will join the duo.

I shot this from near Vulcan, Alberta, after delivering an evening program at the Trek Centre in Vulcan as a guest speaker. Clouds prevented us from seeing anything in the sky at the public event, but on my way home skies cleared enough to reveal the two bright planets in the twilight.

I stopped at an abandoned farmyard I had scouted out earlier in the evening, to serve as a photogenic backdrop.

This is a high dynamic range stack of three bracketed exposures, one stop apart, to record detail in both the dark foreground as well as in the bright sky.

— Alan, June 13, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Urban and Rural Moons


The waxing crescent Moon near Venus in the spring evening sky over the skyline of Calgary, Alberta, May 21, 2015. I shot this from Tom Campbell Hill near the Telus Spark science centre. This is a single exposure with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 60Da, shot as part of a 360-frame time-lapse sequence.

The waxing Moon and Venus shine over contrasting landscapes, both urban and rural.

I shot the main image at top last night, May 21, from a site overlooking the urban skyline of Calgary, Alberta. The waxing Moon shines near Venus in the twilight sky.

By contrast I shot the image below the night before, from a location that couldn’t be more different – remote, rural Saskatchewan, on a heritage farmstead first settled in the 1920s by the Butala family. It is now the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.

The waxing crescent Moon and Venus (above) over the old farm house at the Visitor Centre at the Old Man on His Back Natural and Historical Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan, May 20, 2015, on a very clear night. The old house was the original house lived in by the Butala family who settled the area in the 1920s. This is a single exposure taken as part of an 850-frame time-lapse sequence with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 60Da camera.

Here, the crescent Moon shines a little lower, below Venus, amid the subtle colours of twilight in a crystal clear prairie sky.

However, as the top image demonstrates, you don’t need to travel to remote rural locations to see and photograph beautiful sky sights. Twilight conjunctions of the Moon and bright planets lend themselves to urban nightscapes.

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

Moonrise Over Calgary


Full Moonrise over Calgary

The Full Moon rises over the skyline of Calgary on a clear spring night.

This was the moonrise on Sunday, May 3, as the Full Moon rose south of the main skyline of Calgary. The timing of last night’s Full Moon promised a great shot.

The Moon rose about 15 minutes before sunset, a timing that I was hoping would lead to a shot of the skyline lighting up red with the last rays of the setting Sun in the west as the Moon rose in the east.

Alas, horizon haze obscured the setting Sun and rising Moon. The Full Moon didn’t appear until a good 30 minutes after moonrise as it rose above the haze into the pink twilight sky. Not quite what I was after, but it made a nice scene after all.

I shot this from the grounds of the CFCN TV building high on Broadcast Hill west of the city. There wasn’t an accessible site farther north with a clear sightline east that would have allowed me to place the Moon right over the city.

From this site at CFCN the Full Moon won’t rise over the downtown core until the Full Moon of September 27, the night of the total eclipse of the Moon. Photo op!

This is one frame of 430 I shot for a time-lapse sequence. To plan this and other rise and set images I use the handy app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

TPE Screenshot
A screen shot from TPE showing the photo’s shooting geometry

This screen shot from TPE illustrates last night’s moonrise geometry, with the moonrise line pointing just south of the downtown core as seen from the CFCN site.

I highly recommend TPE for planning any nightscape photography of the rising and setting Sun and Moon.

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

Evening Stars Over the Red Deer River


Evening Stars Over Red Deer River

Mercury and Venus shine as “evening stars” over the Red Deer River in southern Alberta.

What a fine night this was for nightscape shooting. Mercury and Venus are both now about as high as they will get for the year in the evening sky from my western Canadian latitude.

Venus is easy to spot as the brilliant object in the west. But Mercury is more elusive. You can see it here low in the twilight glow and much dimmer than Venus.

The photo illustrates how far each of the two inner planets swings away from the Sun in our skies, and why Mercury has its reputation for being difficult to sight. Also, it appears at its best for only a couple of weeks at a time. By mid-May it will be gone.

Venus, however, continues to dominate our western sky for the next two months.

I shot the main photo from the deck of a rickety wooden bridge over the Red Deer River near Dorothy, Alberta, just off Highway 10 east of Drumheller in the Badlands.

The image is a high-dynamic-range “HDR” stack of five exposures.

Venus over the Atlas Coal Mine

Shortly after taking the lead photo, I drove west to the Atlas Coal Mine to shoot it by the light of the now high and nearly Full Moon. Mercury can still be seen low and to the right of the historic tipple building. Venus shines above it.

This is a single 25-second exposure at ISO 800.

The Atlas Coal Mine is now a National Historic Site and is the last standing from what was once a booming coal mining centre in the Red Deer River Valley.

Now, mostly dinosaur fossils are unearthed here.

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

Heads Up! – Mercury Rising


May 6 Mercury

The next two weeks are the best in 2015 for sighting Mercury in the evening sky.

Mercury is coming into view in our evening sky, climbing as high as it can get for us in the Northern Hemisphere. This is our best chance for us to sight Mercury as an evening star in 2015.

Spring is always the best time to catch elusive Mercury. The angle of the ecliptic – the path of the planets – swings up highest above the horizon in spring, putting Mercury as high into the evening twilight as it can get. This makes it easier to sight Mercury than at other times of the year when, particularly for observers at northern latitudes, Mercury can be lost in the twilight glow and horizon haze.

When it is at its highest Mercury is surprisingly bright, appearing as a bright star easily visible to the naked eye. However, locating it at first in the twilight usually requires a scan with binoculars.

Mercury will be at its highest on May 6 when it reaches “greatest elongation.” However, it will be almost as good for a week on either side of that date.

So set aside a clear evening during the first two weeks of May to search for the inner planet. (The green line is Mercury’s path relative to the horizon with the green dots marking its position at daily intervals.)

Mercury will be shining above fainter Mars, and well below brilliant Venus, now dominating our evening spring sky. Look north of due west during the hour after sunset.

Mercury & Venus Conjunction Closeup (Jan. 10, 2015)
Mercury and Venus on January 10, 2015 from New Mexico.

This view captures Mercury at its last good evening appearance, back in early January when it appeared close to Venus, then emerging into the evening sky. You can compare their relative brightness.

By coincidence, the emergence of Mercury into our evening sky comes just as it loses its lone visitor from Earth. Since 2011, NASA’s Messenger probe has been orbiting and mapping Mercury.

On April 29, with the probe exhausted of its maneuvering fuel, Messenger is scheduled to end its mission by crashing onto the planet, adding a new crater to Mercury’s barren and volcanic surface.

A global false-color map of the mineral composition of Mercury from Messenger data.
A global false-color map of the mineral composition of Mercury from Messenger data.

This is a recent map of Mercury from Messenger. For more details, see the mission’s website.

– Alan, April 30, 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 

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

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

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

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

The Rising of a Pre-Eclipse Moon


Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #4 (Oct 6, 2014)

‘Twas the night before the night before … an eclipse of the Moon.

This was the beautiful moonrise tonight, on Monday, October 6, two days – by calendar date – before the total lunar eclipse on October 8.

However, as the eclipse occurs at pre-dawn on October 8, it’s really just a day and half to go before the Moon turns red as it passes through Earth’s shadow.

I shot these as the gibbous Moon, waxing toward Full, rose over the harvested field to the east of home. The setting Sun nicely lit the clouds which partly hide the Moon.

Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #1 (Oct 6, 2014)

Earlier in the evening, I grabbed this shot as the Moon appeared and two white-tailed deer ran through the yard and out into the field below the rising Moon. Moon deer!

TLE2014Oct08-MDT

This is the sequence that will happen early on October 8, in a diagram courtesy Fred Espenak at EclipseWise.com. The times are for Mountain Daylight, my local time zone. The eclipse will be total from 4:25 to 5:24 a.m. MDT (6:25 to 7:24 a.m. EDT) when the Moon will be immersed in the umbral shadow and will appear deep red.

Use binoculars for the best view of the colours. An eclipsed Moon looks wonderful, like a glowing red globe lit from within, but it’s really lit by the red sunlight from all the sunsets and sunrises going on around the world at once.

The next total lunar eclipses are April 4, 2015 (again pre-dawn) and September 27, 2015 (at convenient early evening hours), both visible from North America.

Clear skies and happy eclipsing!

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

 

Moon and Twilight Planets over the Bow River


Moon with Antares, Mars & Saturn over Bow River

The waxing Moon shines between Saturn and Mars over the waters of the Bow River.

It was a beautiful autumn evening for watching the twilight showing of the crescent Moon accompanied by Saturn (at right of centre) and the pairing of Mars (at left, above) with his rival red star, Antares in Scorpius (at left, below).

The river is the Bow, with its headwaters at Bow Glacier in Banff.

To shoot this scene I drove to the grounds of the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park south of Cluny, Alberta to take advantage of its viewpoint overlooking the Bow River and the heart of the traditional Siksika First Nations tribal lands.

It was here, in the valley below, that Treaty Seven was signed between Chief Crowfoot and Colonel James Macleod in September 1877. Today, a beautiful interpretive centre sits on the hillside at the heart of Blackfoot country.

– Alan, September 28, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Rocky Mountain Nights – A Time-Lapse Collage


 

My new 4-minute video presents time-lapse and still images shot in the Rockies this past summer.

It’s been a busy summer for shooting. Since July I’ve spent a week each in Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks shooting nightscape stills and time-lapse videos of Alberta’s famous Rocky Mountain landscapes by night. 

This compilation includes some of the best footage, plus some panned still images, set to a wonderful piece of royalty-free (i.e. legal!) music by Adi Goldstein. 

For many of the sequences I employed “motion control” (MoCo) devices that incrementally move the cameras during the one to three hours that they are taking the 200 to 450 frames needed for a time-lapse sequence. 

I used the compact single-axis Radian, the 2-axis eMotimo, and the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly, now equipped with their new Stage R single-axis panning unit. This was the first summer with the eMotimo and Stage R, so I’m still learning their best settings for speed, angles, and ramping rates. 

In recent blogs you’ve seen many still images shot as part of these sequences, or with other cameras dedicated to shooting stills. Now you get to see some of the time-lapse videos that represent many nights of shooting, and many hours sitting in the car waiting for the automated camera gear to finish its shooting task. 

Time-lapse shooting is an exercise in dedication and self-denial!

I hope you enjoy the result. Do click on the Enlarge button to go full-screen. Or visit my Vimeo site to watch the video, and others, there.

– Alan, September 10, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Stars over Mt. Edith Cavell


Mt Edith Cavell by Starlight

The stars of the summer sky shine over the North Face of Mt. Edith Cavell.

The valley below Mt. Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park is one of the most impressive locations in the Canadian Rockies. At few other sites do you get the sense of standing at the foot of a vertical mountain face.

I shot this view last Friday night, when the waxing Moon was behind the mountain, lighting the clouds and sky but not the mountain and valley directly.

But enough scattered light came from the sky to light the foreground and mountain face to make a nice photo with detail in both earth and sky.

Use of highlight and shadow recovery in Adobe Camera Raw also helps a lot!

Mt. Edith Cavell Trail at Twilight Panorama

This view is a 360° ground-to-zenith panorama I shot earlier in the evening in twilight. It’s from the Trail of the Glacier path, where the path crosses Cavell Creek.

Mt. Edith Cavell was named in 1916 after the World War One nurse who was executed by the Germans for assisting allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium.

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

 

Star Trails over Athabasca Falls


Star Trails over Athabasca Falls

The autumn stars rise in trails over Athabasca Falls and Mt. Kerkeslin in Jasper National Park.

Last night was a good one for shooting nightscapes in Jasper. Skies cleared for a beautiful moonlit night, ideal for nightscape shooting.

I went to Athabasca Falls, a popular scenic attraction in Jasper but deserted after dark. I set up cameras at the usual overlook, shooting both a time-lapse and star trail set.

The main image above is the result of stacking 100 images in the star trail set. I used the Advanced Stacker Plus actions from Star Circle Academy.

The foreground comes from one image, shot early in the sequence when the Moon lit more of the landscape. The Falls themselves remained in shadow, as I had expected from my lighting angle calculation and knowing the site.

The star trail image shows the autumn stars of Andromeda, Cassiopeia ad Perseus rising over Mt. Kerkeslin, the famous backdrop to Athabasca Falls on the Athabasca River, making its way to the Arctic Ocean

Mt Kerkeslin & Athabasca River at Twilight

This image is a 4-segment panorama I shot earlier in the evening in the twilight, with the waxing Moon over the Athabasca River.

In the early 1800s, after explorer, astronomer, and fur trader David Thompson had to abandon his original route over the Rockies at Howse Pass, he came north, and followed the Athabasca and Whirlpool Rivers up over the Athabasca Pass, his new main route to the B.C. interior.

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

 

Standing Under the Stars at Grasslands Park


Standing Under the Stars at Grasslands Park

Grasslands National Park is one of the finest places in Canada to revel in the dark night sky.

This was the scene last night, in far south Saskatchewan, under clear and super dark night skies, at long last after a week of rain, wind and wintery cold.

I’m at Grasslands National Park south of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, to shoot night sky panoramas in what must rank as Canada’s darkest Dark Sky Preserve.

The park itself is new, created only a decade and half ago. It preserves original prairie grasses and is home to unique and rare species. Bison roam here, allowing you to travel back to pre-European times as you gaze out onto a landscape much as it was for thousands of years.

But look up at night and you can gaze at a sky as it was seen for thousands of years, mostly unblemished by the artificial glows of light pollution. Grasslands National Park is a “dark sky preserve,” allowing visitors to see the stars and Milky Way as they should be seen.

I shot this 360° panorama from the Eagle Butte Loop Trail just inside the boundary of the Park. The main hill is 70 Mile Butte, a landmark to the early NorthWest Mounted Police as it lay 70 miles from their posts at Wood Mountain to the east and Eastend to the west.

This view looks out across the farmland to the west and a handful of yard lights. But little else spoils the view around the rest of the horizon. The last vestiges of evening twilight provide a backdrop for the lone silhouette.

The Milky Way arches overhead, and some bands of green airglow, a natural night sky phenomenon, stretch from east to west. The centre of the Milky Way Galaxy lies to the far right, with its glowing clouds of stars.

– Alan, August 26, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Dawn Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter


Venus & Jupiter Conjunction, with Moon (August 18, 2014)

It was a fine celestial sight to begin the week, as Venus met Jupiter in the dawn sky.

This morning, August 18, Venus and Jupiter appeared just 1/2 degree apart, as close as they’ve appeared to each other since 1999.

The top image shows the wide-angle setting, with Venus and Jupiter tightly paired near the horizon, and the waning Moon above, itself in conjunction with Aldebaran in the Hyades star cluster.

Venus & Jupiter Conjunction Closeup

This zooms into the main event, the Venus-Jupiter pairing, as they were emerging from the horizon haze.

I shot this from home, off the back deck, having little ambition at 5 a.m. to venture any further afield. I had planned to shoot this from Dinosaur Park but had second thoughts on the hour drive there and back!

Waning Moon in the Hyades near Aldebaran

This zooms into the secondary show this morning, the meeting of the waning crescent Moon with the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran, and its companion stars in the Hyades star cluster. This is a telephoto lens shot with a fixed camera, no tracking.

Thus begins a fine two weeks of stargazing, weather permitting, as the Moon exits the sky to leave us the summer Milky Way at its best, and dual pairs of planets in the dusk and dawn sky – Mars and Saturn converging in the evening and Venus and Jupiter, now parting ways, in the morning.

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

 

Twilight and Moonlight at Waterfowl Lakes


Twilight at Waterfowl Lakes

Peaks of the Continental Divide reflect in the calm waters of Lower Waterfowl Lake.

These images provide a sense of what a beautiful night this was, last Monday on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

The evening started with a super-clear twilight providing subtle shadings – from the last glow of sunset on the horizon, through the “twilight purple” above, to the deep blue of the darkening sky at top.

The purple hue comes from red sunlight still illuminating the upper atmosphere and blending with the blue sky from the usual scattering of short blue wavelengths.

The twilight scene is a high-dynamic range blend of several exposures processed with Photoshop’s HDR Pro as a 32-bit file in Adobe Camera Raw.

Star Trails over Waterfowl Lke v1

Taking different frames from the same set that I used to capture the Space Station I created this star trail scene, of the western stars setting over Mt. Cephren. Light from the one-day-past Full Moon illuminated the peaks that line the Continental Divide.

The star trail scene is a composite – of many images stacked to create the star trails, blended with a masked single image from the set to supply the landscape.

For the star trail stacking I used the excellent Advanced Stacker Plus actions from Star Circle Academy. To separate and mask out the sky from the landscape image I used Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool and its wonderful Refine Mask function.

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

 

Sunset over David Thompson Country


Howse Pass Viewpoint Panorama (Partial)

The setting sun lights the clouds over the river plains of the North Saskatchewan.

This was the panoramic view two evenings ago from the Howse Pass viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

We’re looking south over the North Saskatchewan River near its junction with the Howse and Mistaya Rivers. The spot is near where Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway, comes in from the east to join the Parkway. It’s a modern highway now but 200 years ago this was a main canoe route for the fur trade.

The area is known as David Thompson Country, named for the great explorer, surveyor, and celestial navigator who mapped much of western Canada in the early 1800s.

Until about 1810, Thompson passed this way every year en route to the fur trade forts he set up in the B.C. interior, his main job for the North West Company.

Conflicts with the local Pikanii people, who objected to Thompson trading with and arming their traditional enemies, the Kootenais, forced Thompson to find a new route across the Rockies, the Athabasca Pass in what is now Jasper National Park.

Howse Pass Viewpoint Sunset Panorama (Full)

The top image is a 180° panorama, the bottom image is a full 360° panorama from the viewpoint. In the distance are Mt. Murchison, at left, and Mt. Cephren in the far distance, the prominent peak by Waterfowl Lakes.

I shot these with a 14mm lens, in portrait orientation, and stitched them with PTGui software. The top image is made from 6 segments, the bottom from 12 segments.

The software blended them perfectly, no small feat in such a uniform twilight sky. I’m always impressed with it!

– Alan, August 14, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Super Moonrise over Banff


Super Moonrise over Banff

A much-publicized “super moon” rises over Mt. Rundle and Banff townsite.

I joined a small crowd of moon watchers at the Mt. Norquay viewpoint last night, Sunday, August 10, to view the rising of the super moon, the closest Full Moon of 2014.

Of course, no one could possibly detect that this moon was any bigger or brighter than any other moon. Nevertheless, everyone saw an impressive sight and went away happy.

I shot this image at the end of a 700-frame time-lapse, at about 10:15 p.m. This is an HDR “high-dynamic-range” stack of 8 exposures, from dark and underexposed (to capture the bright sky around the Moon) to bright and overexposed (to capture the foreground and dark trees).

Yes, I have cranked up the HDR effect a little, to beyond “natural.” But I think the result looks striking and brings out the structure in the clouds that hid the Moon at first.

Think what you will of “super moons,” they get people outside, looking up and marvelling. In this case, the PR prompted a moonwatch party on a fine summer Sunday evening in one of the most scenic places on the planet.

– Alan, August 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Super Moonrise at Bow Lake


Full Moon and Flowers at Bow Lake

The nearly Full Moon rises over Bow Lake, Banff then lights up the landscape.

Saturday night was a stunning night to shoot nightscapes in Banff. Skies were mostly clear, allowing the nearly Full Moon, a day before the much-hyped “SuperMoon,” to light the landscapes.

I began last night’s shoot at Bow Lake looking south toward the rising Moon over the mountain fireweed flowers.

Twilight at Bow Lake

Shooting the other way toward Bow Glacier reveals this moonlit scene, in a frame I shot as part of the set up for a time-lapse movie. I had three cameras going, each shooting about 350 frames. The computer is processing them as I type. Still-image “nightscapes” like these are so much easier!

When I arrived I thought I wouldn’t be surprised to find other time-lapsers present, at such a great spot on a perfect night.

Sure enough, Shane Black from Ohio was setting up for a twilight shoot with much the same gear I use – a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly system and eMotimo 2-axis motion controller. I was able to help Shane out by supplying a battery to power the rig when his was dying. Glad to help a fellow time-lapser! Good luck on the rest of your cross-country tour

– Alan, August 10, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Prairie Sunset Panorama


Prairie Sunset Panorama

What a spectacular sunset tonight. The Sun is just going down in a blaze of red, while the waxing Moon shines in the deep blue twilight.

I grabbed the camera fast when I saw this happening out my front window, and raced out to the ripening wheat field across the road.

The top image is a 360° panorama of the sky, with the Sun at right and the Moon left of centre. The zenith is along the top of the image.

I used a 14mm lens in portrait mode to cover the scene from below the horizon to the zenith, taking 7 segments to sweep around the scene.

You can see the darkening of the sky at centre, 90° away from the Sun, due to natural polarization of the skylight.

Red Sun in a Prairie Sunset

I shot this sunset image a little earlier, when the Sun was higher but still deep red in the smoky haze that has marked the sky of late. It certainly gives the scene a divine appearance!

This is a 5-exposure high-dynamic-range composite to capture the tonal range from bright sky to darker ground, the wheat field. I increased the contrast to bring out the cloud shadows – crepuscular rays.

I boosted colour vibrancy but didn’t alter the actual colours – it was a superb sky.

I used PTGui v10 to stitch the panorama at top and Photomatix Pro to stack and tone the HDR set. While Photoshop is wonderful it did not work for assembling either of these images.

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

 

Wheatfield Moon and Planets


Wheatfield Moon and Planets

The waxing Moon begins its three-day passage past Spica, Mars and Saturn in the twilight sky.

This was the scene tonight, August 1, from a wheat field near home, as the waxing Moon appeared to the right of the star Spica in Virgo.

To the east, or left, of those two objects lies Mars, at the centre of the frame. To the left of Mars is Saturn, flanked by stars in Libra.

The Moon was near Spica tonight but will appear near Mars Saturday night and near Saturn on Sunday night.

Look low in the southwest as the sky is getting dark.

— Alan, Aug 1, 2014 / ©2014 Alan Dyer

 

Wild Rose Twilight at Red Rock Canyon


Waterton Wild Rose Twilight

Evening light illuminates the peaks around Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Lakes National Park.

I took this image last evening as part of a time-lapse sequence, framing the wild roses in the foreground and the peaks of Mount Blakiston (at left) and Mount Anderson (at right) in the distance. The site is the popular Red Rock Canyon area of the Park.

The last rays of sunlight are hitting Blakiston.

That peak is named for Thomas Blakiston, the first scientific explorer to map the area of Waterton and the passes of the southern Canadian Rockies. Although at the time he was here in 1858, this was still British colonial territory separated from the United States by an ill-defined border running along the 49th parallel just south of this spot.

Blakiston was part of the British Palliser Expedition, led by John Palliser, whose mission was to survey the little-known region south of the South Saskatchewan River to assess its suitability for settlement.

Palliser concluded that the parched rain-shadow area of what is now southern Saskatchewan and Alberta was “desert, or semi-desert in character, which can never be expected to become occupied by settlers.” That area became known as the Palliser Triangle. Only extensive irrigation made settlement possible.

Blakiston was the expedition’s magnetical observer, taking readings of the Earth’s magnetic field strength and direction throughout the region. He disputed Palliser’s leadership and soon broke away from the expedition to conduct his own treks and compile his own reports. It was Blakiston who named the area after Charles Waterton, a famous British naturalist of the time. The region became a nationally-recognized park in 1895

— Alan, July 18, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset over Waterton Lakes


Waterton Lakes Sunset

The setting Sun lights the clouds over Upper Waterton Lake, Alberta.

Waterton Lakes National Park is certainly one of my favourite places. The scenery is wonderful and the town small and quiet. It has all the beauty of Banff with none of the retail sprawl and traffic jams.

I shot the scene above two evenings ago, July 15, from the viewpoint at the Prince of Wales Hotel. It overlooks Middle and Upper Waterton Lakes, the latter lighting up as it reflects the sunset clouds. This is a frame from a motion-control time-lapse.

Waterton Lakes Trees

Last night I shot a time-lapse from the lakeshore, looking through the windswept trees toward the south end of the Upper Lake, as the Milky Way begins to appear in the darkening twilight.

Lights from the campground illuminate the trees with just enough light to balance the foreground and sky. Sometimes you can make use of man-made light.

I’m here at Waterton to conduct some public programs Friday and Saturday night. Skies are clear but hazy with smoke and cirrus clouds. But the days and nights are warm and aren’t windy, a welcome treat in Waterton!

– Alan, July 17, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Super Moonrise over Canola Field


Super Moonrise over Canola Field

The orange Full Moon – a hyped “super moon” – rises over a yellow field of canola.

What a colourful sky this was tonight – the pink Belt of Venus twilight band above the blue shadow of the Earth, above the yellow ripening canola.

And the orange Full Moon embedded in our planet’s shadow.

The onslaught of publicity about super moons this week – it seems we now have not one but several a year making them all a lot less super! – does serve one purpose: it gets people out looking at the Moon they might otherwise take for granted.

Supermoon or not, this confluence of colours can occur any time the Full Moon rises. But if you aren’t outside watching you miss it.

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

 

 

Super Moonrise at Red Rock Coulee


Super Moonrise at Red Rock Coulee

The Full Moon rises over the sandstone formations of Red Rock Coulee, Alberta.

This was moonrise – a super Moonrise – on Friday, July 11, 2014.

Publicized as yet another “super moon,” this moonrise was certainly excellent for me, with superb skies at Red Rock Coulee in southern Alberta. There’s no way anyone would be able to detect the fact this Moon was a little closer and larger than most Full Moons of 2014. But it was still a fine sight.

Here, you see it sitting in the pink Belt of Venus fringing the dark blue band of Earth’s shadow rising in the east just after sunset. The already red rocks are lit by the warm light of the western twilight.

The main photo is an HDR stack of 6 exposures, to capture the range in brightness from bright sky to darker foreground.

Mars and Spica above Red Rock Coulee

This night, as it is for a week or so at mid-month, reddish Mars was sitting just above blue-white Spica in Virgo. They are visible here as a double star in the moonlit southwestern sky. Saturn is to the left. This is a single exposure.

It was another perfect night – warm, dry and bug free, for 3 hours of moonlight time-lapse shooting, as well as taking these still images.

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

 

Sunset over the Lonely Log Cabin


Log Cabin at Sunset

The clouds paint the sky at sunset over a pioneer cabin in the Cypress Hills.

This is a scene the original resident of this cabin would have enjoyed – and painted.

This lonely log cabin in the Battle Creek valley was built by Robert David Symons, renowned as a rancher, naturalist, game warden, and painter, in the style of western artists such as Charlie Russell.

The cabin looks like it dates from the pioneer days of the first European settlement of the area, in the late 19th century. But Symons settled here and built this log cabin in 1939, during the time he worked as a game warden in the Hills, posted at the Battle Creek Ranger Station. He lived in the cabin for only three years before selling it to Albert and Sylvia Noble in 1942.

The Nobles expanded the cabin to accommodate their family. They lived here for 10 years, working a sawmill in the area.

Today the cabin is a scenic stop on the rough and often muddy Battle Creek Road that winds from the Alberta to the Saskatchewan side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Travelling it is like being back in the 1940s, when roads were no better than improved cart tracks.

Shooting Time-Lapses at Cypress Hills Log Cabin

I spent an evening here two nights ago on a perfect summer night, shooting the sunset and then the cabin scene by moonlight using time-lapse cameras and gear.

The main scene at top is a high dynamic range stack of 6 images to preserve details in the bright sky and dark foreground.

The self-portrait is a single shot taken by moonlight. Mars and Spica are just setting as a pair of stars over the hills across the valley.

It was a magical night in the Hills.

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Circling Stars Over the Open Range


Reesor Ranch Circumpolar Star Trails

The stars swirl in circles above the big sky country of the Canadian Prairies.

For these images I set the camera to take hundreds of images over the course of about 4 hours, then stacked about 100 frames for each of the composites. I stacked the images with the application StarStax

The result shows the stars circling the North Celestial Pole and Polaris in the northern sky. The top image is from earlier in the night when the Moon was still up lighting the landscape.

Reesor Ranch Circumpolar Star Trails v2

The image above is from late in the night, after moonset, and with the glow of dawn beginning to brighten the northern sky. Some low noctilucent clouds are also appearing on the horizon.

This was a beautiful night at Reesor Ranch in Saskatchewan, on the edge of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. I’ve just wrapping up a week of shooting here with clear nights every night but two. The hard drives are full!

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Wild Rose Sunset


Wild Rose Sunset

The sky lights up pink to match the wild roses in Cypress Hills.

Last night the twilight sky over the Cypress Hills was simply stunning. The clouds contrasted with the blues and pinks of twilight. On the way out to an evening shoot I stopped to take this image of the darkening sky colours behind the blooming wild roses, the floral emblem of Alberta.

In this photograph I’m looking east, opposite the sunset. The dark blue on the horizon is the shadow of the Earth rising. Above the shadow is a fringe of pink, the Belt of Venus, from red sunlight still lighting the upper atmosphere in that direction. Its colour nicely matches the pink roses – Earth and sky in colour coordination.

This is a high dynamic range stack of 6 exposures, to capture the bright sky and darker foreground in one image, to render the scene as the eye saw it but the camera could not, at least not with a single exposure.

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

 

Moon on the Water


Reesor Lake Moon HDR

The Moon shines over the still waters of a prairie lake.

On Saturday, July 5, the Moon put on a super show in the twilight sky. The Moon was exactly at first quarter phase 90° from the Sun, and it shone between Mars and the star Spica, for a tidy 3-world conjunction in the evening sky.

For these shots I was at one of my favourite places for nightscape shooting, Reesor Lake in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. These are still shots taken with one camera while two others were shooting time lapses of the fall of night and the Moon moving over the lake.

Moon on Reesor Lake #5

Later in the evening, some photogenic cirrus clouds moved through the scene, nicely filling out the composition.

Moon on Reesor Lake #6

Here, you can see Mars to the right of the Moon and Spica to the left of the Moon. Below, on the water swim three white American pelicans that frequent the prairie lakes around here.

This was a perfect night. The anglers weren’t catching too much despite the fish leaping from the water every few seconds. But I managed to catch some nice photos and movies. It was a fine summer night to enjoy the sky.

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

 

Sunset on the Range


Sunset on the Range

The setting Sun provided a fine light show on the open range of the Canadian Prairies.

This was the scene Friday evening, July 4, as the Sun lit up the clouds in the big sky of the Historic Reesor Ranch.

I’m here for a week of intensive shooting and writing. On the first night the setting Sun put on a fine show, captured in still images, like the high dynamic range composite above, and in time-lapses captured with the motion control gear below.

Reesor Ranch Sunset Shoot #4

When I took these shots I was likely right on the 105th meridian, the line of longitude that marks the boundary of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Either way, the land is expansive and stunning.

Just to the south the land rises to the Cypress Hills and the namesake provincial park where I’m spending most nights shooting stills and time-lapses. More to come this week I’m sure!

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

 

Waxing Moon on the Water


Moon over Middle Lake HDRThe waxing crescent Moon shines over water at Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta.

What an excellent evening this was. On July 2 I was at a newly discovered spot, the Whitefish picnic area, in Bow Valley Provincial Park between Calgary and Canmore, Alberta.

I was there with colleagues doing a shoot for a promotional video for a project I’m involved with. But after the business shoot, I stuck around to take my own shots for time-lapse movies and still images.

In the scene above the Moon is reflected in the still waters of Middle Lake in the Park. It’s a high dynamic range stack of seven exposures.

Crescent Moon over the Bow River

Here, a little earlier in the evening is the scene on the banks of the Bow River, with the Moon over the swiftly flowing waters of the glacier-fed Bow. Its waters nourish much of southern Alberta, making farming, industry and life possible in an otherwise dry, rain-shadow climate.

Though a year ago its flood-swollen waters were bringing disaster to many people along the Bow.

Shooting at Bow Valley Park

This evening I shot motion-control time-lapses by the Bow, using some new gear that slowly pans or turns cameras during a time-lapse shoot. This is me playing with the new eMotimo controller, while the Dynamic Perception dolly does its thing below.

Lots of fun!

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

 

Moon and Venus Rising


Moon and Venus RisingThe waning Moon and Venus rise together into the summer dawn.

This was the scene this morning, June 24, as the waning crescent Moon rose together in conjunction with Venus, into the dawn sky.

The morning could not have been more clear for a great view of them coming up over the distant hills in southern Alberta.

Moon and Venus Above the Mist

Pity there was not also some noctilucent clouds, but this morning there was no sign of them. Nor of any aurora through the night, despite promising signs of activity. But the morning show made up for their absence.

The waning Moon and Venus are together again on the morning of July 24, exactly a month from now.

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

 

The Clouds of Solstice Twilight Are Here!


Noctilucent Clouds Panorama #1 (June 21-22, 2014)

Look north in June and July from the Canadian Prairies and you are likely to see iridescent clouds shimmering in the mid-summer twilight. 

It’s been a good couple of nights for sighting noctilucent clouds – literally “night shining” clouds, or NLCs. These are odd water vapour clouds that form at the edge of space 80 km up where no self-respecting cloud has a right to exist.

But there they are. Existing and moving in waves in a near vacuum.

We see them because at solstice time the Sun’s light pours over the pole (where the midnight Sun is shining) and lights up the clouds that hang over the Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Noctilucent Clouds and Big Dipper

From the Prairies we see them far in the distance to the north, as here, shining low on the horizon amid the deep blues and reds of a perpetual twilight that never ends on our short summer nights.

The top photo, taken Saturday night, is a 5-section panorama with a short telephoto lens. The bottom image, taken early this morning, is just the opposite – a very wide angle shot showing the clouds in context, with the Big and Little Dippers at top left and centre.

Some images and movies from last year’s NLC season are in my blog post from June 27, 2013.

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

 

Storm Clouds and Stars on Solstice Eve


Storm Clouds and Stars (June 20, 2014)

On the eve of summer solstice the sky was filled with an amazing light show.

Living on the great plains of southern Alberta gives me access to the big sky right outside my door. On summer nights, the entertainment is often watching thunderstorms roll across the northern horizon down “hailstorm alley” to the north of me.

That was the case on Friday night, the eve of summer solstice. What a photogenic storm this was! Lightning lit up the roiling cloud from within and, as below, shot out in an escape path toward the ground.

Lightning Bolt and Blue Sky

Despite the midnight hour, the sky is blue with the glow of perpetual twilight at this time of year at 51° north.

As this storm receded, another rolled in, this time directed at my area. Lightning flashed all around (it was too rainy to shoot).

As I was processing these shots, the power flickered, then went off, as a bolt hit someplace critical to the power system. In the country it doesn’t take much to knock out the power to outlying areas. Mine was out for another 14 hours. Thank goodness for laptop batteries!

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

 

Fireflies Dancing on Solstice Eve


Fireflies and Stars

A field of fireflies dances under the stars on the eve of summer solstice.

On Friday, June 20, the night before summer solstice, I had a superb night at home watching storm clouds, fireflies and the glow of perpetual solstice twilight.

June is firefly season and on a warm night I see them dancing and flickering above the grassy field. They appear here as green sparkles and streaks, with the stars above and Milky Way just showing through in the blue of a solstice twilight.

Flashes from distant lightning help illuminate the ground and clouds.

Iridium Satellite Flare (June 20, 2014)

These frames are from a time-lapse sequence, with the frame above picking up few fireflies. But it did reveal the streak from an Iridium satellite flaring in the sunlight as it flew overhead.

While the sky from my latitude of 51° North never gets dark at this time of year it is filled with other beautiful sky glows and phenomena.

– Alan, June 22, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Thin Moon of May


Thin Crescent Moon in Evening Twilight

May ends with a thin waxing Moon returning to the evening sky.

This was the scene on a fine Friday evening, May 30, as the two-day-old Moon returned to the western sky.

Mercury was not far away, and is in this frame but at far upper right. I wasn’t really framing the shot with Mercury in mind, but the Moon and clouds.

This frame is one of 440 I shot for a time-lapse sequence of the setting Moon and moving clouds. This is the result, nicely deflickered with LRTimelapse software, an essential tool for time-lapse processing.

How many times have I tried to shoot the Moon or Mercury low in the west and been foiled by cloud near the horizon? Notice the rain falling from the western cloud. Some place near Calgary was getting wet!

— Alan, May 31, 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

 

 

Goodbye Winter Sky – 2014 Edition


Orion Setting & Zodiacal Light (24mm 6D)

After a brutal winter for most of us in the northern hemisphere, we’re glad to see the last of the winter sky.

This was the scene on Tuesday night, April 29 as the last of the winter sky descended into the evening twilight.

Here, Orion (left of centre) sets into the western sky, next to the gossamer glow of the zodiacal light (right of centre). The stars of Taurus sit amid the zodiacal light, with the Pleiades just about to set behind the ridge. Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, shines at far left.

The zodiacal light is the glow of sunlight reflecting off cometary dust particles in the inner solar system. It is a glow from interplanetary space, not from our atmosphere. Spring is the best time to see it in the evening sky, no matter your hemisphere. It also helps to be in the desert of the U.S. Southwest!

I took this parting shot of the winter sky from a favourite observing haunt from years’ past, Massai Point, at 6800 feet altitude in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The sky was perfectly clear and the night warm and windless. I’m back in Arizona and New Mexico for a few days, checking out accommodations for a long-term stay next winter, so I won’t have to endure the snow and cold that plagued us last winter. Good bye winter sky! Good bye winter!

– Alan, April 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer