Meteor Shower over the VLA


Raining Meteors over the VLA Dishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Geminid Meteors by Moonlight at the VLA


VLA by Moonlight with Geminid Meteor #1

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

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

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

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

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

VLA by Moonlight with Geminid Meteor #2

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

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

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

VLA Dishes at Sunset


VLA at Sunset with Crepuscular Rays

The photogenic dishes of the Very Large Array aim skywards as the setting Sun casts shadows across the sky.

If these were optical telescopes I could write that the telescopes were getting ready for a night of sky viewing. But radio telescopes can observe day and night.

Still, there is something magical about catching any type of telescope in action as the Sun sets and night falls. Here, the last beams of sunlight coming from the west illuminate the dishes, while dark shadows – crepuscular rays – cast by clouds converge toward the anti-Sun point in the east.

As part of my trek around New Mexico this past week, I shot this on Sunday, March 17, about an hour before I took the image of Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA dishes – for that image I was east of the array looking back to the west and to the comet.

But for this image I was at one of the public access areas, standing under one of the dishes, looking east.

At first, all the dishes were aimed up to the zenith, stowed I assume due to the high winds that were blowing all afternoon. But then, right on cue as I began shooting, all the dishes began to move in unison. The dishes first aimed toward me, then turned to aim up to the south, as here. It was an amazing dance to watch. It gave me goosebumps. And tears.

There is likely no more iconic image of our exploration of the universe from Earth than this array of antennas listening for the faintest signals from deep space – not alien radio programs, but the natural signals emitted by atoms and molecules where stars are forming and dying.

– Alan, March 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Comet PANSTARRS Over the VLA


Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA (March 17, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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