Perseid meteor shower

The Perseid meteor shower of 2015 was better than average because it occurred one day before the new moon. The absence of moonlight meant that many fainter meteors were visible.

Although the shower peaked on the night of 12–13 August, meteors could be seen for several nights before and after. I went out for several hours photographing the shower on two different evenings and was happy to report that clear and dark skies produced a great event.

On the night of 12–13 August, I  set up the camera on my equatorial mount so that I could track the radiant across the sky for several hours. I then combined the images with meteors into a single image that clearly shows the radiant. The result was pretty good although I’m certain I saw more meteors than the camera was able to capture.

Perseid meteor shower.
Perseid meteor shower. Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is also visible in the upper right.

In addition to the meteors, there was a prominent set of waves in the airglow visible low on the horizon. From wikipedia:

Airglow is caused by various processes in the upper atmosphere, such as the recombination of atoms, which were photoionized by the sun during the day, luminescence caused by cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere and chemiluminescence caused mainly by oxygen and nitrogen reacting with hydroxyl ions at heights of a few hundred kilometres.

Here is a short time-lapse video of the multitude of waves present in the airglow that evening. (A higher quality version of the video can be found here.)

The following night also had meteors but at probably half the hourly rate as the previous evening. Once again I mounted the camera on the equatorial mount but this time I pointed the camera towards the southwest and aligned it with the Milky Way. I managed to capture two very bright meteors as they streaked from overhead down towards the horizon.

Perseid meteor shower.
Perseid meteor shower.

The last time the Perseids peaked at about the same time as the new moon was in 2007. In August 2018, the moon will be only 4% illuminated providing another dark sky opportunity.

 

An evening of spectacular lightning and a colorful sunset

The weather situation was shaping up to produce a few late afternoon and early evening thunderstorms in northern Arizona—with a good chance some of these would be in the Sedona area. Shooting lighting there is always fun as there are many fantastic rock formations that can be part of the foreground.

With that in mind, we took a quick drive down to Sedona and set up at the Cultural Park on the west side of town. This location affords excellent views from the west through north and includes the Cockscomb rock formation. Thunderstorms were developing to our west and moving to the northeast so it was just a matter of being patient. The first storm slowly moved away but not before producing some bolts with the Cockscomb and Bear Mountain as a backdrop.

Lightning over the Dry Creek basin in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning over the Dry Creek basin in Sedona, Arizona.

Additional thunderstorms began to develop.

Lightning and sunset colors over Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and sunset colors over Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and sunset colors over Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and sunset colors over Sedona, Arizona.

As the sun dropped below the distant mountains the lightning show began in earnest with brilliant bolts juxtaposed with sunset colors. It was amazing. But it didn’t last long as the sunset colors quickly faded.

Edit: Fixed typo.

Twilight lightning over the Grand Canyon

I never tire of traveling to Grand Canyon in hopes of capturing some amazing photographs of rainbows, thunderstorms, or lightning. Here are a few recent images showing how inspiring the weather can be at Grand Canyon.

Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.

Storms had quickly weakened and dissipated during the late afternoon and I was about to pack my gear and head home when a small thunderstorm began to develop north of Grand Canyon. As the sun dropped below the horizon leaving only the upper portions of the storm bathed in soft light this lightning bolt sparked from the anvil region and moved through clear air before striking the Vermillion cliffs in the distance.

Another day brought numerous showers moving across the canyon…

Rain showers sweeping across Grand Canyon.
Rain showers sweeping across Grand Canyon.

…with a few lightning strikes in the canyon.

Lightning strikes in Grand Canyon.
Lightning strikes in Grand Canyon.

Then, to finish the day, there was this partial rainbow with supernumeraries.

Partial rainbow with supernumerary.
Partial rainbow with supernumerary.

Understandably, some visitors may be unhappy with the less-than-perfect weather during their visit to Grand Canyon but I couldn’t be happier.

Lightning, rainbows, and clouds across northern Arizona

July has turned out to be a good month for photographing weather across northern Arizona. For a few days in the middle of the month I was able to capture images of lightning, rainbows, and colorful clouds at sunset near Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

The conditions on 13 July 2015 were about perfect for late afternoon photography. Deep moisture was present across the eastern half of Arizona while very dry air persisted across the west. This allowed storms to form over the eastern half of the state while clear skies allowed the setting sun to shine brightly on the landscape near Sedona.

Visible satellite image showing clouds across eastern Arizona and clear skies across western Arizona.
Visible satellite image showing clouds across eastern Arizona and clear skies across western Arizona.

Cathedral Rock was nicely illuminated by the setting sun and shafts of rain caught the sunset colors. A faint rainbow was also present adding an additional dimension to the scene.

Lightning flashes behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning flashes behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and a partial rainbow frame Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and a partial rainbow frame Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

After the sun set, I repositioned so that I could catch twilight colors in the western sky and lightning from additional storms. In the background can be seen the highly textured shape of the Cockscomb.

Lightning splits the sky behind the Cockscomb in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning splits the sky behind the Cockscomb in Sedona, Arizona.

The next day proved to be difficult for lightning photographs but the sunset colors on the clouds over Cathedral Rock were very dramatic.

The setting sun lights up the anvil of a thunderstorm behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
The setting sun lights up the anvil of a thunderstorm behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

Sensing a need for a different location, I travelled to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon a few days later (16 July) hoping to get some lightning photos over the canyon. The atmosphere had stabilized some and storms were much weaker and very little lightning was observed.

Visible satellite image showing a decrease in storm activity compared to previous days.
Visible satellite image showing a decrease in storm activity compared to previous days.

Consolation prize was a partial rainbow over the Canyon.

A partial rainbow over the Grand Canyon.
A partial rainbow over the Grand Canyon.

A very nice consolation photo, indeed!

Milky Way Rises over Cathedral Rock in Sedona

With a very clear night and the moon rise not expected for several hours, I set up the iOptron SkyTracker to capture images of the Milky Way and Cathedral Rock in Sedona. The star image was 4 minutes in length and shot at ISO 1600. The SkyTracker works well enough that the stars still appear as points with this long-exposure image.  A second image was then taken using the same exposure settings but with the tracker turned off in order to get a sharp foreground.

The Milky Way rises above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
The Milky Way rises above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

Taking the images was easy. So was the post processing. It turned out that combining and blending the two images was harder than I thought.  But the result was worth it.