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.
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.
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.
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.
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.