Brendan Alexander: Blog http://www.donegalskies.com/blog en-us (C) Brendan Alexander donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Mon, 01 Aug 2016 13:21:00 GMT Mon, 01 Aug 2016 13:21:00 GMT http://www.donegalskies.com/img/s10/v108/u766434924-o704401150-50.jpg Brendan Alexander: Blog http://www.donegalskies.com/blog 120 84 The Milky Way, Doochary, Co. Donegal. http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2016/8/the-milky-way-doochary-co-donegal The Milky Way, Doochary, Co. Donegal.The Milky Way, Doochary, Co. Donegal.31st July 2016, 12:45am

This was the scene deep in rural Donegal last Saturday night / Sunday morning. After a fine summer’s evening the forecast was set clear for the night. Knowing that darkness is returning to our skies after the twilit summer months I packed the car with my camera gear headed out in search of the Milky Way.
The bog lake in the image is situated outside the village of Doochary, at the centre of the county. In the image the southern portion of the Milky Way blazes through the ambers of light from Killybegs and Donegal Town that creeps over the horizon. The dense star-fields of the Milky Way, visible from Ireland in the late summer and early autumn, are home to many bright nebulae. The reflection of the Lagoon Nebula (M8), an area of intense star birth in the constellation of Sagittarius, can be seen as a pink/red speck at the centre of the lake. The planet Saturn sits close to the horizon on the right of the image and a passing satellite, a common slight in the summer skies, can be seen as a streak on the left of the image.
This is a remote, peaceful and beautiful location. I am looking forward to many more star-filled nights from similar locations throughout Donegal in the months ahead.
Please feel free to share this image if you like it.

Technical Details
Camera & Lens: Canon EOS 6D, Sigma 20mm F1.8
Exposure: 25sec, ISO 6400, F2.8
Time & Date: 31st July 2016, 0040 (BST)

The Milky Way, Doochary, Co. Donegal 

31st July 2016, 12:45am

 

This was the scene deep in rural Donegal last Saturday night / Sunday morning. After a fine summer’s evening the forecast was set clear for the night. Knowing that darkness is returning to our skies after the twilit summer months I packed the car with my camera gear headed out in search of the Milky Way.

The bog lake in the image is situated outside the village of Doochary, at the centre of the county.  In the image the southern portion of the Milky Way blazes through the ambers of light from Killybegs and Donegal Town that creeps over the horizon.  The dense star-fields of the Milky Way, visible from Ireland in the late summer and early autumn, are home to many bright nebulae. The reflection of the Lagoon Nebula (M8), an area of intense star birth in the constellation of Sagittarius, can be seen as a pink/red speck at the centre of the lake. The planet Saturn sits close to the horizon on the right of the image and a passing satellite, a common slight in the summer skies, can be seen as a streak on the left of the image.

This is a remote, peaceful and beautiful location. I am looking forward to many more star-filled nights from similar locations throughout Donegal in the months ahead.

Please feel free to share this image if you like it.

 

Technical Details

Camera & Lens: Canon EOS 6D, Sigma 20mm F1.8

Exposure: 25sec, ISO 6400, F2.8

Time & Date: 31st July 2016, 0040 (BST)

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Brendan Alexander Donegal Donegal Skies Doochary Ireland Milky Way http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2016/8/the-milky-way-doochary-co-donegal Mon, 01 Aug 2016 13:21:08 GMT
The Ghost Village of Port http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2015/4/the-ghost-village-of-port Located deep in rural south west Donegal, the ghost village of An Port is a location frozen in time and steeped in History.

An. Port is thought to be the first maritime port in county Donegal. A beautiful place that is home to a rocky beach, towering sea cliffs and rugged sea stack which are all enclosed by a hamlet of deserted dwellings. These modest houses are cut from the same stone that forms the stunning sea cliffs of the area. That is set Port apart from other locations along Donegal’s remote coast by the eeriness that hangs in the air.

Zodiacal Light at An Port, Co. DonegalZodiacal Light at An Port, Co. DonegalZodiacal Light, Milky Way & Venus at the deserted famine village of An Port, in rural south west Donegal, Ireland. A beautiful and character-fill location with some of the Darkest Skies in Europe.


Date: 15 March 2015
Time 21:00
Location: An Port, Co. Donegal.
Subjects: Zodiacal Light, Milky Way & Venus

Camera: Canon 6D

A Ghost Village, deserted at time of the famine. It is unclear whether all the villagers were forced to flee in search of better living conditions or if whose remained simply perished during the famine but one thing is clear, Port has remained uninhabited since.

Indeed even before the tragedy of the famine the Ghost Village played host to heartbreak. Siohan, daughter of Tarlach Neill (head of the O’Boyle clan), is said to have drowned in the small stream leading to the ocean at Port while learning to swim. However many believe a more plausible explanation to be that Siohan fled to Port to escape from arranged marriage. She was followed there by the man she was to marry where he exacted his revenge by drowning her in the stream.

Starlight at An PortStarlight at An PortThis is the View from the uninhabited famine village of An Port on the 15th November 2014. I was blown away by this location at night. Located in southwest Donegal with glorious dark skies, history and unending charm… what else would you want?

Port has remained untouched by modern life from when it was deserted during the famine to this very day and as such is home to the most glorious dark skies that Europe has to offer. This capture of me admiring the Milky Way at Port during a clod November night begins to begins to communicate the sense of time, history and solitude at hangs in the air at this enchanting location. A rare sensation in this day and age.

The Ghost Village of Port has remained untouched by modern life from when it was deserted during the famine to this very day and as such is home to the most glorious dark skies that Europe has to offer. This capture of me admiring the Milky Way at Port during a clod November night begins to begins to communicate the sense of time, history and solitude at hangs in the air at this enchanting location. A rare sensation in this day and age.

 

Guided by the StarsGuided by the StarsThis image was taken on Saturday the 15th

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Brendan Alexander Donegal Famine Village Glencolmcille Port night sky http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2015/4/the-ghost-village-of-port Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:16:59 GMT
Birds Sing in Real Time Solar Eclipse Footage http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2015/3/birds-sing-in-real-time-solar-eclipse-footage

On the morning of the 20th March 2015 I woke at 7am to see a sky of grey and a few clear blue patches. This was it- Eclipse day 2015. The Sun would be 95% eclipsed in a few hours but would the clouds stay broken for long enough? As I set up my gear, sure enough the skies closed it, thick dark grey cloud. My intial thought was “you won some, you lose some”. This one look lost. The Eclipse got under way just before 08:30 and the clouds were persisting. With camera and telescope at hand, I stalked the South Eastern skies waiting for a hole to shoot through. At 09:00 all looked lost, with maximum Eclipse just 30 mins away, I didn’t even have a chance to frame and focus on the Moon. Just minutes later the Sun, sporting a thick crescent appeared faintly for a few seconds, just enough time for me to frame it. Then it was gone from view again. However, around to the north I could see a few thinner patches of cloud. Could they make their way south east before 09:30. At 09:15? My luck was in. Thing cloud persisted in the south east till 09:35. Prefect timing and a Wonderful experience. As the Eclipse progress you could hear the birds sing. A slight darkness fell around me and there was a noticeable drop in temperature. Day was becoming night. A beautiful and powerful experience.

 

 

As the Eclipse progress you could hear the birds sing. A slight darkness fell around me and there was a noticeable drop in temperature. Day was becoming night. A beautiful and powerful experience. 

 

 

I hope you take the time to watch this video, especially if you were clouded out for the Eclipse. The sights and sounds in this video are exactly how the maximum phase of the Eclipse played out in front of me in real time.

 

 

Please do feel free to share.

 

Location: Killygordon, Co. Donegal, Ireland.

Date: 20 March 2015

Time: 0928-0933

Camera: Canon 6D

Telescope: Celestron Onyx 80mm

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Brendan Alexander Donegal Eclipse2015 Real Time Eclipse Solar Eclipse http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2015/3/birds-sing-in-real-time-solar-eclipse-footage Fri, 20 Mar 2015 18:46:00 GMT
Winter Stars from West Donegal http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/12/winter-stars-from-west-donegal During November I spent my time chasing the Milky Way as the brightest potion of it dipped out of our skies to the south west shortly after darkness. Like most people who have seen the Milky Way I find it a truly stunning slight, especially when seen against the beautiful scenery and dark skies of Donegal. However, there is one arrangement of stars that “wows” me even more than the summer Milky Way. 

The sight of Orion, The Hyades and The Pleiades sinking in to the western horizon is seen most often as darkness falls during spring. However, I could not wait that long to experience this again. I decided to catch Orion & Co. in the act before dawn broke one crisp December morning. On Tuesday (2nd of December 2014), knowing the waxing crescent Moon would exit the sky at 3:30am, I packed the car with my camera gear and plenty of coffee! I hit the road at 2am and headed once again to the beautiful village of Maghery outside Dungloe in west Donegal.

The Winter Stars Above Maghery, Dungloe, Co. DonegalThe Winter Stars Above Maghery, Dungloe, Co. DonegalAs I turned out of the village, on to Crohy Head, I was greeted by the spectacle of the World War II tower a top a headland above a sandy beach against the backdrop of Orion, The Hyades and The Pleiades. My initial thought was “no better place to start”. I made my way down the grassy path and set up my camera overlooking the beach and waited for the last ambers of the crescent Moon to fade. Fifteen minutes later, just before 4am, I captured the shot I had in mind when I set out from home. The clouds began to build from the west. As the tide started to turn I could see the refection of brightest star in the sky, Sirus, on the beach below.

As I turned out of the village, on to Crohy Head, I was greeted by the spectacle of the World War II tower a top a headland above a sandy beach against the backdrop of Orion, The Hyades and The Pleiades. My initial thought was “no better place to start”.  I made my way down the grassy path and set up my camera overlooking the beach and waited for the last ambers of the crescent Moon to fade.  Fifteen minutes later, just before 4am, I captured the shot I had in mind when I set out from home. The clouds began to build from the west. As the tide started to turn I could see the refection of brightest star in the sky, Sirus, on the beach below.

Sirius Bruning  Bright Above Crohy Head Signal TowerSirius Bruning Bright Above Crohy Head Signal TowerCrohy Head, Dungloe, Co. Donegal.

The reflections of Sirius (the brightest stat in the night sky) Orion and The Hyades as they sink in to the western horizon at the beautiful village of Maghery outside Dungloe in west Donegal.

I returned to the car for a coffee and a muffin and hoped the clouds would pass. I then checked the beach that fronts the village for its potential but as I suspected there was a great deal of very harsh local lighting illumining the beach. However, the sky was clearing so I returned to my original location but this time headed all the way down to the beach in hope of  catching the starry reflections on the wet sand. This beach is cut into a natural amphitheatre and well protected from local light. From there, for the next 90 minutes, I captured the winter stars above the wet sand, rocks and World War II tower. The camera was set off recording the scene and I sit back to take in the beautiful slight while listening to the ocean roaring in the background. This is always deeply peaceful and satisfying experience.

Winter Star Reflections at Crohy HeadWinter Star Reflections at Crohy HeadCrohy Head, Dungloe, Co. Donegal.

Orion, The Hyades and The Pleiades sinking in to the western horizon at the beautiful village of Maghery outside Dungloe in west Donegal.


02 December 2014

Just before 6am with only a few minutes of darkness remaining, I made my way to my final location on Crohy head. Here is a view from the top of the headland that is home to the World War II tower. This is a slight that has changed little since the tower was erected and hopefully remains that way for a very long time to come.

Orion Setting Behind Crohy Signal TowerOrion Setting Behind Crohy Signal TowerCrohy Head, Dungloe, Co. Donegal.


Orion, The Hyades and The Pleiades sinking in to the western horizon behind the WWII signal tower at the beautiful village of Maghery outside Dungloe in west Donegal.




02 December 2014

At 6:30am I headed for home thankful for the relatively clear skies and very happy with what I had captured on my camera and indeed my retina. I look forward to many more nights like this before the summer twilight returns.

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Brendan Alexander Crohy Head Donegal Dungloe Orion West Donegal Winter http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/12/winter-stars-from-west-donegal Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:47:25 GMT
Crohy Head, Dungloe, Co. Donegal http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/crohy-head-dungloe-co-donegal Over the last week I have been sizing up the picturesque Crohy Head for its astro photo potential. Located southwest of the town of Dungloe in Co. Donegal, the headland is rich in World War II history. As you leave of the small village of Maghery you are greeted by the distant silhouette of a World War II lookout tower above a sandy beach. I captured the Milky Way and Mars shining over the beach and tower on a hazy November night (Thursday the 13th of November). 

 

Lookout to the Milky Way & MarsLookout to the Milky Way & MarsOver the last week I have been sizing up the picturesque Crohy Head for its astro photo potential. Located southwest of the town of Dungloe in Co. Donegal, the headland is rich in World War II history. As you leave of the small village of Maghery you are greeted by the distant silhouette of a World War II lookout tower above a sandy beach. I captured the Milky Way and Mars shining over the beach and tower on a hazy November night (Thursday the 13th of November).

 

An vertical shot from my trip to Crohy head. The Milky Way towering above the World War II Lookout Post.

 

Milky Way at Crohy Head, DungloeMilky Way at Crohy Head, DungloeAn vertical shot from my trip to Crohy head on the 17th of November 2014. Complete with world war II Lookout post.

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Brendan Alexander Crohy Head Mars Milky Way http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/crohy-head-dungloe-co-donegal Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:57:12 GMT
An Port: A Deeply Magical Location http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/port-a-deeply-magical-location As Darkness fell on Saturday the 15th of November 2014 I and my good friend Peter OToole were en route to the deserted famine village of Port located in rural southwest Co. Donegal, Ireland. On arrival, as twilight faded, it was evident that this is a deeply magical location with truly dark skies and a rich history which hangs in the air. The sky conditions were less than prefect that evening with some cloud and haze lingering on the horizons. Never the less the milky way blazed over head with stunning detail and contrast against the inky black sky.

I took home four images that I feel really capture my experience of Port that evening. Here is the first of them capture shortly after darkness. The Milky Way shining over the boats and lobster pots of the fishermen. Also in the image is a small white cross erected in memory of an Aberdeenshire man who perished at Port in the late 1800’s. 

Milky Way over PortMilky Way over PortAs Darkness fell on Saturday the 15th of November 2014 I and my good friend Peter OToole were en route to the deserted famine village of Port located in rural southwest Co. Donegal, Ireland. On arrival, as twilight faded, it was evident that this is a deeply magical location with truly dark skies and a rich history which hangs in the air. The sky conditions were less than prefect that evening with some cloud and haze lingering on the horizons. Never the less the milky way blazed over head with stunning detail and contrast against the inky black sky.


I took home four images that I feel really capture my experience of Port that evening. Here is the first of them capture shortly after darkness. The Milky Way shining over the boats and lobster pots of the fishermen. Also in the image is a small white cross erected in memory of an Aberdeenshire man who perished at Port in the late 1800’s.

This is the second in my series of photos the trip. Perhaps my  favourite capture of the night. I think it begins to communicate the sense of time, history and solitude at engulfs Port. A rare sensation in this day and age.

Guided by the StarsGuided by the StarsThis image was taken on Saturday the 15th

This is another the View from the uninhabited famine village of An Port. I was blown away by this location at night.Glorious dark skies, history and unending charm… what else would you want? 

Starlight at An PortStarlight at An PortThis is the View from the uninhabited famine village of An Port on the 15th November 2014. I was blown away by this location at night. Located in southwest Donegal with glorious dark skies, history and unending charm… what else would you want?

The final shot from my trip. In the image the Milky way shines over the the lobster pots, boats and a solitary cross commemorating the passing of the Scottish man mentioned earlier. I will be turning to this enchanting  location in thefuture to capture more the its history and stunning dark skies.

Milky Way Ablaze over An PortMilky Way Ablaze over An PortThe Final shot from my trip to the enchanting famine village of An port in southwest Donegal, Ireland (15th November 2014). In the image the Milky way shines over the the lobster pots, boats and a solitary cross commemorating the passing of a Scottish man in the late 1800's.

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/port-a-deeply-magical-location Mon, 17 Nov 2014 16:55:03 GMT
Aurora Borealis: A Guide http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/aurora-borealis-a-guide Aurora Borealis: A Guide

By Brendan Alexander

As darkness descended upon Donegal and Northern Europe on the evening of 22nd of January 2012, the northern horizon began to shine with a colourless glow.  As the night progressed, the glow developed into curtains of shimmering light and the more keen eyes could even detect the slightest hint of green at the base of the eerie glow.  This was a rare display of the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis.  The Aurora Borealis have long been the subject of mystery and folklore, striking wonderment and fear into the hearts of the planet’s most northerly inhabitants. 

 

Folklore of the Northern Lights

The Finnish call the Northern Lights “Revonulet”.  Directly translated this means the “Fox Fires” and originates from an ancient Finnish myth in which the lights were believed to be caused by a magical fox majestically sweeping his trail across the snow, spraying it into the sky.  The Lapps of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway attributed the lights to the souls of the departed.  When the souls energetically blazed across the skies, the natives behaved solemnly to respect the souls because they feared that doing otherwise would invite bad fortune.  The Algonquin Indians believed that Nanahbozho, their creator, travelled to the far north after he finished creating the Earth.  From there, they believed that he built great fires which reflected southwards , to remind those he created of his lasting love.  Closer to home, the Scots often referred to these majestic lights of the north as “the merry dancers” owing to the Norwegian folklore in which the lights were believed to be spirits of old maids dancing and waving in the sky.

Surprise AuroraSurprise AuroraNorthern Lights over Killygordon, Co. Donegal. 14th February 2012.

Science of the Aurora Borealis

The familiar name of the Aurora Borealis was attributed to the northern lights in 1621 by French scientist, Pierre Gassendi.  They were named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora and the god of the north wind which in Latin is Boreas.  The Aurora Borealis is caused by a complex string of events in which the eerie lights above the snow-draped landscapes of the arctic can be traced back to the surface of the Sun.  The light from the Aurora is light that is actually emitted from atomic collisions in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.  Although the Aurora appears colourless to the naked eye, for the most part the green that is commonly picked up in long exposure photographs originates from atomic oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere colliding with an incoming particle, typically an electron.  The collision transfers energy to the oxygen atom, which is then released again in the form of visible light.  Light at a green wavelength is characteristic of atomic oxygen.  The combined effect of billions of these particle collisions in the Earth’s atmosphere gives rise to the Auroral glow.  The Earth’s magnetic field is not dissimilar to a massive particle accelerator, catching particles passing in space and hurling them into atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere.  The out flow of accelerated particles from the Sun results in Aurora displays on the majority of dark nights in the artic.  However, for the aurora to spill south into Irish skies, something much more spectacular must occur.  For Aurora displays to occur in Irish skies, the Sun must blast material from its surface towards Earth in an event called a coronal mass ejection (CME).  This sends a mass of charged solar particles hurtling into space and sometimes towards the Earth.  This cloud of superheated plasma can sometimes contain billions of tonnes of material and travel at speeds of up to one million kilometres per hour.  When these charged particles reach the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with neutral atoms resulting in the release of photons (light particles).  The combined effect of many photons being released from many atoms resulted in the Aurora displays that were visible from Donegal last month.  Such events are quite rare though and the fact that clear skies are required to see an Aurora display means that displays over Donegal and Ireland are rare occurrences.  Nonetheless, Northern Light displays are spectacular sights on the sporadic occasions that they are visible from Ireland.  When a CME delivers a blow to Earth, it distorts the Earth’s magnetic field so much that the Auroral oval, under which the Aurora can be seen (see picture) slips further south towards the equator and on extreme events, it can position itself over Ireland.

Aurora Dances Over Fanad HeadAurora Dances Over Fanad HeadFanad Head, Co. Donegal. 22nd January 2012.

Aurora Displays

Such an event coincided with clear skies over Donegal last month and in March 2011 before that.  On both occasions, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF), a very important component was in a favourable position.  On these occasions the IMF (also referred to as the Bz Component) was tilted southwards, strengthening the magnetic pathways between the Earth and the Sun.  This, coupled with the arrival of a CME or increased solar wind speed, can result in Aurora at much lower latitudes than normal.  On the 22nd of January 2012, from Fanad head and, indeed, across the northern half of the country, an intense white light not unlike twilight glow was seen between Sunset and Sunrise.  It soon became apparent that this was not the effect of the Sun setting minutes before but, rather, the effect of a violent eruption from the Sun’s surface days earlier.  Soon a feature called Auroral rays became visible.  These are shafts of more intense light emanating from the base of the Auroral glow which shimmer slowly cross the base of the Aurora, giving rise to the infamous curtain effect.  These are created when the Aurora traces the Earth’s magnetic field lines and appear as bright shooting beams of light.  All this took place against the backdrop of twinkling stars.  The steady orange glow of street lights illuminating the clouds is often mistaken for the Northern Lights.  A simple way to eliminate this mistake is to check for the presence of stars behind the glow, as starlight will not shine through cloud but will penetrate Aurora displays.  To the naked eye, Aurora displays are whitish with only very subtle hints of colour, mostly green.  An intense, steady, orange starless glow is a sure sign of light pollution, not Aurora.

Solar Maximum

All through 2012, 2013 and 2014 there is an increased chance of Northern Light displays over more southern latitudes like Donegal and the rest of Ireland due to the Sun reaching its solar maximum.  The Sun runs in cycles of activity over an 11 year period and is predicted to reach solar maximum (most active) in the years ahead.  Around the time of solar maximum, violent eruptions like CMEs on the Sun are more frequent.  This is good news for Aurora hunters in Donegal and the rest of Ireland, as the Earth experiences increased Auroral activity either side of solar maximum.  The Aurora is typically more active around the time of the equinoxes in March and September.  However, the long winter nights also offer ample dark hours for viewing any possible displays.  As the displays are faint, Moonlight does interfere, so a clear, Moonless night is ideal to view the Aurora.  Most importantly, anyone hoping to witness possible displays should get to a very dark location, away from all light pollution with a clear view of the northern horizon.

Aurora MagicAurora MagicAstonishing display of the Northern Lights on the 27th February 2014. North Donegal Coast.

Best Location

Although it is true that the further north you are the better for viewing the Northern Lights, it is not advisable to travel large distances to see a potential Aurora display because there is no guarantee that the Aurora will be visible as cloud and other factors often interfere.  A potential display should be visible throughout the country due to the small geographical size of Ireland.  A much more frequent inhibitor of a potential Irish display is cloud and, unfortunately, Donegal typically has some of the cloudiest skies in the country. 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) Aurora Aurora Borealis Borealis Brendan Alexander Northern Lights http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/11/aurora-borealis-a-guide Tue, 04 Nov 2014 12:39:28 GMT
What Space Really Looks Like http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/what-space-really-looks-like What Space Really Looks Like

When we humans use our eyes to look at the sky, the detail and colour we see is limited by our brain frequently refreshing the image forming on our retina.  This means that most the distant objects in the night sky appear as faint milky patches of light.  However, when a camera lens or telescope replaces our eyes and a camera sensor replaces our brain, long exposure photography can be employed to record  many more photons of light than our eyes ever could,  giving a much more detailed and colourful impression of the night sky.  The advent of astrophotography in the mid-19th century led to astronomers seeing the universe as never before resulting in a wealth of discoveries.

 

Wing of the SwanWing of the SwanPicture saved with settings embedded.

 

Rich Region in Cygnus

In the image is a portion of the constellation Cygnus the Swan.  The bright star in the top centre of the image is Deneb and forms the tail of the swan while the star in the right centre of the frame is called Sadr and represents the mythical swan’s body.  Gienah, the star in the bottom left of the image, forms part of the wing of the swan.  In the top left of the image you should be able to pick out the aptly named North America Nebula.  The Cygnus Wall or the bright part that appears as Central America and Mexico is actually a hot bed of gas, dust, and newly formed stars.  If we return our focus to Sadr in the right of the image, we can see another accurately named nebula- the Butterfly Nebula, while the remains of an exploded star, or supernova remnant, are visible below Gienah in the form of the Veil Nebula.  Finally, the dark dust lane of the Milky Way is visible in the image as the dark river running between the 3 stars Deneb, Sadr and Gienah.  This area of the sky contains many more points of interest that are just too numerous to list.

What We See

Orion the Hunter is one of the most recognisable constellations in the night sky.  The three bright stars in Orion's belt stand in a nearly vertical line above the snow covered road at the bottom. Hanging from his belt, the stars and nebulae of the Hunter's sword are visible lower and to the right. Yellow-orange Betelgeuse is the brightest star on the image left. 

 

Snowy OrionSnowy OrionKillygordon, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 7th December 2010.

 

What the Camera/Telescope Records

This is the Orion Nebula, a region of intense star birth.  While observing the nebula with the naked eye, take a moment to think about the numerous other solar systems being formed deep within the glowing dust that makes up the nebula.  The light from this region of the sky travelled for 1,500 years before hitting the CCD chip of the camera.

 

Orion NebulaOrion Nebula

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/what-space-really-looks-like Fri, 15 Aug 2014 12:29:05 GMT
Aurora Magic http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-magic Aurora MagicAurora MagicAstonishing display of the Northern Lights on the 27th February 2014. North Donegal Coast.

 

These images are from the stunning display of the Aurora in the 27th of February 2014. The image was taken on the north coast of Donegal at the height of display at appox. 22:00 . The scale of the Auroral arch was truly impressive. This image spans more than 180 degrees (east to west) and more than 70 degrees vertically.

 

Aurora MagicAurora MagicAstonishing display of the Northern Lights on the 27th February 2014. North Donegal Coast.

 

Aurora over Lough Salt:

I stopped off for this shot at Lough Salt en route to the coast for what would be a stunning Aurora display.

 

Aurora Over Lough SaltAurora Over Lough SaltThe beginning of an astonishing display of the Northern Lights on the 27th February 2014. Lough Salt, Co. Donegal.

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-magic Thu, 27 Feb 2014 00:00:00 GMT
Dark Sky Delights http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/dark-sky-delights Dark Sky DelightsDark Sky DelightsZodiacal Light, Milky Way and Aurora over Cruit Island, Co. Donegal. 1st March 2013.
 
Behind the Image:
 
On the first day of March 2013, after a busy day, I was just about to sit down to dinner when I noticed via the web that a Solar wind had arrived at Earth making for favourable Aurora conditions. I wolfed down my dinner down and took a quick look at the weather radar on the web. It didn’t look good! However, I decided to take and chance and head to the coast. I knew a place on the west coast that I thought had great potential for Earth and sky shots so at 19:00 I pointed the Car west and drove!
 
Upon arrival at 20:30 I was star struck when I stepped out of the car! The bright and brilliant stars of the Milky Way blazed overhead, a faint Aurora display was in progress to the north and the elusive Zodiacal Light shone intensely extending skyward form the western horizon. I look a few minutes to take in all and then I sprang into action with my camera and tripod. Although the air was moist the skies stayed clear for the next two and half hours. I enjoyed a peaceful yet invigorating night soaking in the celestial light and listening to the sounds of the ocean under an inky black sky.
 
 
In the Image:
 
In the above image I capture three delights of a dark sky.  Zodiacal Light, sunlight scattered interplanetary dust, can be seen extending up from the western horizon. It is seen as a faint triangular cone of light and is very faint so the presence of the Moon or light pollution would have rendered it invisible. The dense star clouds of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, extend through the centre of the image while the Aurora Borealis dances low on the Northern horizon in the right of the image.
 
 
Image Details:
Date: 01 March 2013
Time: 20:45
Location: Cruit Island, Donegal, Ireland.
Equipment: Canon 1000D, Sigma 20mm F1.8 Lens, Fixed Tripod.
Exposure: Four panels of 30sec, ISO 1600, F2.2 exposures.
 

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/dark-sky-delights Fri, 01 Mar 2013 23:59:00 GMT
Starscape at the Coast http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/starscape-at-the-coast Starscape at the CoastStarscape at the CoastThe view spans from the constellation of Cygnus setting in the west to the familiar asterism of the Plough in the north east. The foreground was illuminating by the setting crescent Moon in the south west.
 
The view spans from the constellation of Cygnus setting in the west to the familiar asterism of the Plough in the north east. The foreground was illuminating by the setting crescent Moon in the south west.
 
Image Details:
Date: 14 Jan 2013
Time: 19:30
Location: West Donegal Coast, Ireland.
Equipment: Canon 1000D, Sigma 20mm F1.8 Lens
Exposure: 4 x 30sec, F2.2,  ISO1600
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/starscape-at-the-coast Mon, 14 Jan 2013 13:45:00 GMT
Auroral Reflections http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/auroral-reflections
 
Last night/this morning seen a beautiful aurora display over Ireland and indeed rest of the more northerly portion of the globe. After the short bright summer’s nights it was fantastic to stand under a rich, inky black autumn sky watching to the “Merry Dancer’s” return to the sky. A meteor even sliced through the field of view of one of my exposure. Yet another rewarding night under the stars.
 
Image Details:
Location:  Downings, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Exposure: 8 sec, ISO 1600, F1.8
Camera & Lens: Canon 1000D, Sigma F1.8 20mm
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/auroral-reflections Mon, 08 Oct 2012 12:45:00 GMT
Nebulae and a Galaxy http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/orion-running-man-nebulae Orion NebulaOrion Nebula

In the Image

The Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery, look for the familiar constellation of Orion, the hunter, rising to the east on a December evening.  This is the Orion Nebula, a region of intense star birth. Take a moment to think about the numerous other solar systems being formed deep within the glowing dust that makes up the nebula.  The Orion Nebula is visble to the unaided eye but a telescope and reveals the sweeping structure and vivid colours of this jewel of the night sky and individual stars may even be visible within this milky patch of light.

 

Andromeda GalaxyAndromeda GalaxyPicture saved with settings embedded.

In the Image

Our nearest neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, is also visible In autumn Andromeda Galaxy is visble to the naked eye as a faint, fuzzy patch of light in the constellation of Andromeda, the chained princess. Our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The Andromeda galaxy is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. This light has been on a journey across the universe for 2.5 billion years before it hits the camera chip.

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/orion-running-man-nebulae Fri, 21 Sep 2012 23:00:00 GMT
The Northern Milky Way http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/the-northern-milky-way Cassiopeia DeepfieldCassiopeia Deepfield
 
I captured the data for this image on the 25th August 2012. It's just now that I am processing it.
 
At the center of the image is the familiar constellation of Cassiopeia. To the right is the Andromeda Galaxy, below center  is Double Cluster Perseus, beside it is the heart and sole nebulae and many more deep sky objects.
 
Image Details:
Date: 25 August 2012
Location: Killygordon,Co. Donegal, Ireland.
Equipment: Canon 1000D, CG5 Mount, Sigma 20mm lens.
Exposure: 6 x 10mins, 3 darks, ISO 800, F2.2.
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/the-northern-milky-way Fri, 24 Aug 2012 23:00:00 GMT
Perseid in the MilkyWay http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/perseid-in-the-milkyway Perseids Fireball in the Milky WayPerseids Fireball in the Milky WayKillygordon, Co. Donegal. August 2012.
 
This image was taken on the on the night of the 10th/11th of August 2012, the night before the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower. The plan was to take a long exposure to bring out the detail in the Milky Way and then continue to take shorter exposure to capture any Perseids that lit up that area of the sky. This was just a test run for the peak on the following night. However, there was 100% cloud cover during the peak of this year’s shower so this is the only meteor I captured. Having said that this was the brightest Perseid I seen this year and I couldn’t believe my luck when I reviewed the image and realised I had caught it in just in the corner of the frame.
 
Image Details: 
 
Location: Killygordon, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 
Date: 10/11  August 2012
Equipment: Canon 1000D and Sigma 20mm F1.8 lens with LP filter, Celestron CG5 Mount.
Exposure: Milky Way 300sec, ISO 800, F2.5, Meteor 30 ISO 1600 F1.8
 
 
About Perseid Meteor Shower:
 
Meteor showers derive their names from the position of their radiant in the sky. Radiant is the term used to describe the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate from. Tracing the path of the meteors backwards will lead you to this point. Hence, the Perseid meteor shower’s radiant is in the constellation of Persius, the hero from Greek mythology who famously killed the serpent-haired Medusa. As comets travel through space, they leave a trail of ionised gas and dust behind them. Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through this trail of dust, resulting in the particles being incinerated high up in the earth’s atmosphere, producing spectacular shooting stars.
 
What else is in the Image:
 
The bright star fields of the Summer Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius glowing right down to the horizon. There are also a number of bright emission nebulae in the image. The Lagoon, Trifid, Eagle and Swan Nebulae to name but a few. To the upper left of the image is the bright star Altair which makes up one point in the summer triangle. The dark dust lanes of the Milky Way can also be seen running through our home Galaxy.
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/perseid-in-the-milkyway Sun, 12 Aug 2012 12:45:00 GMT
Aurora Eruption http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-eruption Aurora ExplosionAurora ExplosionNorth Donegal Coast, 24th April 2012.

About Aurorae

Although the Aurora appears colourless to the naked eye, for the most part the green that is commonly picked up in long exposure photographs originates from atomic oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere colliding with an incoming particle, typically an electron.  The collision transfers energy to the oxygen atom, which is then released again in the form of visible light.  Light at a green wavelength is characteristic of atomic oxygen.  The combined effect of billions of these particle collisions in the Earth’s atmosphere gives rise to the Auroral glow. 

In the Image

Charged particles blasted of the surface of the Sun arrived at Earth’s upper atmosphere on the morning of the 24th of April 2012. An absolutely stunning aurora display followed. Easily the best I have seen in my eventful four years of sky watching. The display started off strong at nightfall (22:00 UT) with intense and almost static rays. However shortly after magnetic midnight the aurora came to life, complete with waving curtains, shimmering rays, vivid colours and pulsating heart. A spellbinding and enrolling time was endured from dusk to dawn. 

 

AURORA: CURTAIN CALL

Curtain Call AuroraCurtain Call AuroraNorth Donegal Coast, 24th April 2012.

About Aurorae

The out flow of accelerated particles from the Sun results in Aurora displays on the majority of dark nights in the artic.  However, for the aurora to spill south into Irish skies, something much more spectacular must occur.  For Aurora displays to occur in Irish skies, the Sun must blast material from its surface towards Earth in an event called a coronal mass ejection (CME). 

In the Image

Charged particles blasted of the surface of the Sun arrived at Earth’s upper atmosphere on the morning of the 24th of April 2012. An absolutely stunning aurora display followed. Easily the best I have seen in my eventful four years of sky watching. The display started off strong at nightfall (22:00 UT) with intense and almost static rays. However shortly after magnetic midnight the aurora came to life, complete with waving curtains, shimmering rays, vivid colours and pulsating heart. A spellbinding and enrolling time was endured from dusk to dawn. 

 

Earlier Just Before Sunset...

In the Image

This image was taken at the North Donegal coast while awaiting for the darkness to set to reveal what would be a stunning Aurora display. In the scene the young crescent Moon can be seen setting alongside the seven Sisters of the Pleiades Star Cluster. The three stars that make up Orion’s Belt are aligned on the horizon. The brilliant Venus dominates the sky while the golden remains of Sunset glow below.

 

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-eruption Mon, 23 Apr 2012 23:00:00 GMT
Planets at Trusk http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/planets-at-trusk  
Planets at TruskPlanets at TruskTop to bottom: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury (Just above the horizon).

On the evening of the 4th of March the clouds departed as the Sun sank below the Donegal horizon leaving in its wake a stunning alignment of no less than four planets. I headed to the scenic Trusk Lough near Ballybofey, Co. Donegal hoping to experience the spectacle and catch a few photo to share the magic of this cosmic sight with others.

When I arrived at the site it looked as though I would be disappointed once again. The clouds refused to reveal Mercury to me, just as they had done all week. However, I set up and took a few shots of the 2nd and 3rd brightest objects in the night, Venus and Jupiter repectively. Only the Moon can outshine these planets in the night sky. Then, at approximately 19:30, just as Mercury was due to set, the clouds that had positioned themselves low to the west in the early evening shifted. Mercury was revealed. The planet Uranus occupied a patch of sky nearby but the bright twilight glow rendered it invisible to both the naked eye and to my camera. There they were all three planets lined up in the western sky. Jupiter and Venus dominated the scene but Mercury Twinkled and flickered away in in the twilight glow before slowly slipping below the horizon out of view. As Mercury set, I took a minute to soak in the clam atmosphere of the Lough, listening to the water lapping on to the shore and wildlife signing as darkness fell. I packed up my things and headed for home but not before contemplating of the fact that is estimated that only 1% of the Earth’s population as seen Mercury. I also turned my gaze eastward to catch Mars in the act of rising as it has just passed opposition (opposite the Sun in the sky) it would be visible all night.
Top to bottom: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury (Just above the horizon).
 
On the evening of the 4th of March the clouds departed as the Sun sank below the Donegal horizon leaving in its wake a stunning alignment of no less than four planets. I headed to the scenic Trusk Lough near Ballybofey, Co. Donegal hoping to experience the spectacle and catch a few photo to share the magic of this cosmic sight with others. 
 
When I arrived at the site it looked as though I would be disappointed once again. The clouds refused to reveal Mercury to me, just as they had done all week. However, I set up and took a few shots of the 2nd and 3rd brightest objects in the night, Venus and Jupiter repectively. Only the Moon can outshine these planets in the night sky. Then, at approximately 19:30, just as Mercury was due to set, the clouds that had positioned themselves low to the west in the early evening shifted. Mercury was revealed. The planet Uranus occupied a patch of sky nearby but the bright twilight glow rendered it invisible to both the naked eye and to my camera. There they were all three planets lined up in the western sky. Jupiter and Venus dominated the scene but Mercury Twinkled and flickered away in in the twilight glow before slowly slipping below the horizon out of view. As Mercury set, I took a minute to soak in the clam atmosphere of the Lough, listening to the water lapping on to the shore and wildlife signing as darkness fell. I packed up my things and headed for home but not before contemplating of the fact that is estimated that only 1% of the Earth’s population as seen Mercury. I also turned my gaze eastward to catch Mars in the act of rising as it has just passed opposition (opposite the Sun in the sky) it would be visible all night. 
 
Planets at TruskPlanets at TruskTop to bottom: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury (Just above the horizon).


Trusk Lough, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 4th March 2012.
 
Image Details: Location: Trusk Lough, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 
Time & Date: 19:40 4th March 2012 
Equipment: Canon 1000D and Sigma 20mm F1.8 lens 
Exposure: 4sec, ISO 400, F1.8 with in camera noise reduction 
 
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/planets-at-trusk Sun, 04 Mar 2012 23:59:00 GMT
Surprise Aurora http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/surprise-aurora Surprise AuroraSurprise AuroraNorthern Lights over Killygordon, Co. Donegal. 14th February 2012.

 

When heading to bed last night I just happened to take a peek at the space weather website and much to my surprise a strong southward Bz component meant that aurorae were possible. Due to the short notice I stayed at home and waited for the clouds to part and as look would have just before 4am the skies clear and the was a brief period were the aurora was fairly active. Light pollution interfered but still very pleased to catch the aurora from good old Killygordon.

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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/surprise-aurora Sun, 19 Feb 2012 13:45:00 GMT
Aurora Irish Invasion http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-irish-invasion Aurora Dances Over Fanad HeadAurora Dances Over Fanad HeadFanad Head, Co. Donegal. 22nd January 2012.
 
Well last night we struck it lucky in Donegal.  The Northern Lights came out to play, first significant aurora display in Ireland of 2012. I thought I would share some of the images I manged to get.  These Images of the phenomena were taken at Fanad Head, Co. Donegal between 20:00-21:00 on the 22nd of January (last night). 
 
I arrived at Fanad Head with two companions, just before darkness set in. As the skies around began to dim the northern horizon began to glow and a quick snap with my camera confirmed the presence of those elusive northern light with camera showing green and red hues cast across the northern sky. As the evening progressed so did the intensity of the display. The infamous curtain effect was on display as shafts of light shot out from the base of the auroral glow and shimmered across the sky. This was greeted by a chorus of Oohs! & Ahhs! The images show the shaft of light at the base of the auroral glow.
 
I also managed to take a quick time-lapse of the most active part of the display we seen. Clouds interfered though. The clouds soon moved in and a few hours later we heading home and spent the 90min drive reminiscing display.
 
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/aurora-irish-invasion Sun, 22 Jan 2012 23:59:00 GMT
Lunar Eclipse Unfolds http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/lunar-eclipse-unfolds Lunar Eclipse Unfolds Over MountcharlesLunar Eclipse Unfolds Over MountcharlesMountcharles, Co. Donegal, 15th July 2011. Oh what a night!! A total lunar eclipse and clear skies, I couldn’t have wished for more.  From Donegal, Ireland, Moon rise occurred just after totality but I was still able to capture everything that was visible from my location.  I searched google maps and street view for the past few weeks trying to find the best location in the county to view the eclipse.  The pier in Mountcharles, outside Donegal Town provided a picturesque setting and a clear south eastern horizon, making it my location of choice. The weather forecast was predicating a relatively good chance of clear skies.  So I packed the car up and headed off brimming with excitement.  Upon arrival, I was thrilled with my choice of location but the skies were looking threatening, clouds everywhere….. except the south east and that’s the way it stayed all night.  The weather was making up for the bitter disappointment of missing the December eclipse because of cloud.  A few curious passers-by rolled up to have a look.  

Total Lunar Eclipse UnfoldsTotal Lunar Eclipse UnfoldsMountcharles, Co. Donegal, 15th July 2011.

 

The excitement was building and then around 22:10..Eureka!! There she was.  The dim, red, eclipsed Moon just hanging over the horizon.  A magical and humbling hour followed as the Moon climbed and grew back into its original form.  An amazing night of astronomy.  Easily the most memorable experience I have had during my short time in astronomy, along with March’s aurora display.

 
Eclipsed Moon RiseEclipsed Moon RiseEclipsed Moon Rising Ballintra. Taken from Mountcharles, Co. Donegal, 15th July 2011
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donegalskies@gmail.com (Brendan Alexander) http://www.donegalskies.com/blog/2014/8/lunar-eclipse-unfolds Wed, 15 Jun 2011 22:59:00 GMT