On a cold, dark, star-filled night, astrophotographer Brendan Alexander can be found in the Donegal countryside with telescope and camera at hand, ready to capture the wonders of the night sky. His childhood interest in astronomy was reignited in late 2008, when he became aware of images of the stars that amateurs were capturing with relatively simple equipment. Inspired by the beauty of the images, Brendan acquired his first camera and telescope and has spent the rest of the time since looking skyward. Alexander has taken advantage of Donegal’s dark skies to record on film many of the spectacular events in the skies above the county over the last four years. His profile in astronomy and astrophotography has grown with his work gaining exposure on RTE, BBC and The Irish times to name but a few. Several of these night sky shots have been used on the BBC flagship astronomy program; The Sky at Night with Sir Patrick Moore as well as the popular Stargazing Live. A number of his images have been shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year with one gaining publication in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year book. Brendan has also had two of his images selected for NASA’s prestigious Astronomy Picture of the Day.
Brendan, born in 1986, has lived all this life in Killygordon, East Donegal. In 2011, He graduated from Letterkenny Institute of Technology with a Masters Degree by Research in Bioanalytical Science. Brendan recalls; I have had an interest in astronomy since childhood and I vividly remember receiving a plastic toy telescope from my parents when I was seven years of age. However, it was not until 2008, inspired by the quality of night sky photographs being captured by amateurs, that I really developed a passion for observing and capturing the wonders of the night sky.
Alexander also explains that chasing the Northern lights from Ireland is one of this favourite night sky exploits. I monitor the space and terrestrial weather conditions online and if a significant Aurora display in the offing, I pack up the car and head to a dark and scenic site. It is hard to explain how I feel when I see the Northern horizon began to glow and faint green and red hues are cast across the northern sky. An excitement rises from within me, usually followed by a sense of awe as I contemplate that power of nature and the process that are playing out in front of my eyes and camera.
Questions & Answers
Why Donegal Skies?
Donegal is where I was born and where I have spent all my life. Although light pollution in Donegal is sadly on the rise it is still home to some of the darkest skies in Europe. For this reason, I am not sure if my interest in the night sky and being a Donegal man is a coincidence and or a symptom of living under star-filled skies. Donegal is also unique in that its northern and western skies are forever protected from light pollution given that nothing but the deep blue sea lies beyond them. All this renders Donegal a prime astrophotography location with its cloudy climate the only real drawback of county’s skies.
What Donegal means to you?
Donegal’s majestic landscapes always made me feel proud to call Donegal home. It’s spectacular and rugged coastline is a source of constant pleasure of me and there are few things I enjoy more that searching the Donegal countryside and coast line for the idyllic setting for the perfect Earth and Space photograph.
How you feel when you take the photos of Donegal skies?
An excitement rises from within me, usually followed by a sense of awe as I contemplate the beauty of nature and the power of the process that are playing out in front of my eyes and camera. Be it an Aurora display, Lunar Eclipse or a night photographing of Nebulae and Galaxies, I always like to set the camera running and sit back and enjoy the views. The last thing I want to do is to get too caught up electronics to enjoy the moment.