Aurora, a Solar Eclipse and a Venus Transit

Amazing weather has made the last couple of weeks an absolute dream for observing, with clear skies, warm temperatures and no pesky insects. The northern lights have been putting on quite a show lately as well.

It makes you wonder, if the solar maximum is 2012 to 2013, can you imagine how impressive the aurora will be this fall or say next spring? All I can say is bring it on—this photon absorption unit is ready!

Speaking of northern lights, on Saturday, April 22, I waited for the Lyrid Meteor shower to begin. After four hours with nothing to train my trusty camera on, I began to think the evening was a washout.

As I started to wander off in the direction of bed, I took one more quick peek out the hallway window to see an aurora show beginning. I quickly grabbed my camera and tripod, headed up the ladder to the rooftop and did a fast setup.

As I live in Lobird area, I have many challenges when it comes to taking aurora pictures. The most problematic is the security lights and occasional passing cars with headlights. I have now incorporated the streetlights and security lights into the pictures with some rather interesting results.

The show lasted from 2 a.m. until about 4:30 a.m. I sat up nice and high with a wide field-of-view and watched the constellations Lyra, Hercules and Cygnus the Swan slowly rise off the horizon, while the northern lights danced across those amazing Yukon night skies. A light breeze and my cat Spike curled up in my parka made for a perfect early morning observing session.

As a rather added bonus, there were purple tinges, the always-present green and a few hints of red colouring. Huge curtains of light, looking more like sheets of rain, flowed across the horizon. You could literally follow a light pulse from one horizon to the other, and then watch as the light pulse disappeared behind Grey Mountain.

Personally I find it difficult to focus on photography when the aurora is so intense. The human eye can see changes in the aurora much faster than even the most expensive camera and lens.

And then there is that thing called field-of-view—the eye can see a huge, wide field-of-view. With a camera lens you don’t get the field-of-view, and oddly enough, the wider the field, or smaller aperture of the camera lens, the more expensive.

It took 181 pictures to record this most awesome aurora show. All pictures turned out fine and no mistakes in the settings. There are about 10 pictures that are great, and the rest are quite respectable indeed. Make no mistake about it, of all the cameras I have tested, the Canon 5D MK2 is the unrivaled king of astronomy and the night sky DSLR cameras.

The pictures of my last couple of aurora adventures are posted on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies. Check it out and enjoy the view!

All the action seems to be taking place on the sunny side of things. Currently there are between 100 and 150 sunspots at any given time. For anyone with a solar filter or solar telescope, life doesn’t get much better than this.

On Sunday May 20 there is going to be a partial solar eclipse of the sun. Starting at a little before 5 p.m., with mid-eclipse at 6:15 p.m. sporting a 73 percent covered sun.

The partial solar eclipse is over at 7:25 p.m., and it looks like we have a front row seat for an awesome event.

Considering that it is a Sunday and all, why don’t we move down to the S.S. Klondike and set up some solar telescopes and have a look. If you are interested in attending send an email to [email protected].

If that was not enough there is also a lunar eclipse on June 4 and the transit of Venus on June 5. Now this transit of Venus is an interesting and rare sight not to be taken lightly.

A Venus transit is when the planet appears as a silhouette as it passes across the face of the sun. This event will last an astonishing six hours. It has only been observed six times in recorded history, and the next time this happens will be in 105 years on December 11, 2117.

It is important to remember to always practise safe solar viewing and only use solar safety approved viewing gear.

Clear skies!

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

May Night Skies

May 3 and 4 The moon is only seven degrees away from Saturn and the bright star Spica. A good photo opportunity.

May 5 Full moon—this is the largest full moon of the year. Good photo opportunity.

Also, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is peaking tonight under the worst possible conditions: a full moon.

May 12 Last quarter moon.

May 20 New moon. A partial solar eclipse starts at 4:59 p.m.

May 22 A crescent moon five degrees (or one binocular field of view) below brilliant Venus in the evening sky. Good photo opportunity.

May 28 First quarter moon. The moon is six degrees below Mars in the evening sky. Good photo opportunity.

May 31 The moon is six degrees below Saturn in the evening sky. Good photo opportunity.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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