Auroral reflection

Beautiful green aurora reflected in the still waters of English Bay. And all because I went out onto the balcony to watch the International Space Station sail by…

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve missed seeing the aurora in Vancouver. The one that still annoys me is the spectacular display on Thanksgiving 2012, the day we went home after a weekend backpacking at Garibaldi Lake (mentioned in my earlier post, Long Exposure). But last night I got lucky.

Earlier in the evening, I’d stepped out onto our balcony to look at the crescent moon slipping towards the horizon, when I noticed something bright in the sky, and moving from west to east. I looked over to Jupiter to compare its brightness and quickly realized that it must be the International Space Station (ISS). I watched it drift overhead (I always want to wave to the astronauts…) and then went back inside. I checked the timing and found I was right, and of course that the next sighting would be in a little over 90 minutes’ time.

Well, by now, it was getting late, and we had closed the balcony door as the apartment had finally cooled to a reasonable temperature after a hot sunny Saturday. But just at the time of the next flyover, I decided to go back out and look for the ISS again. Sure enough, there it was, its arc passing a little further north than earlier taking it a few degrees higher than the pole start. And then I did a double take: was that a green glow over the mountains? Maria confirmed that I wasn’t seeing things. I’d seen the alert from spaceweather.com but dismissed it on account of so many previous false alarms (Vancouver is not a great aurora-viewing spot for a few reasons). Yet there it was before my eyes: a faint green sky.

There was no question in our minds: grab the camera, tripod, and a jacket and walk down to the beach. The water was the flattest calm, it was a balmy evening (well, morning by this time I suppose), and we were treated to a gorgeous auroral display, which I photographed until the camera battery ran out. I think I have a few I’m happy with, though I would have loved to have been able to take a time-lapse as we could clearly see movement. Maybe next time.

Make no mistake: it’s never as in-your-face-green as the photographs, and it was evident to us that the young folks partying on the beach had no clue about the aurora. (At one point, we were approached by one of them, and I expected a question about the aurora or the photography. But all they wanted was a cigarette. And they sounded so disengaged that we decided it wasn’t even worth trying to point out the green sky.) But it was obvious to us, we had a near-perfect spot to capture it, and it was a very peaceful hour on the beach.

Dinosaurs in the sky

I, for one, welcome our new giant flaming pterodactyl overlords.

I hadn’t even seen that shape when I took the picture – I just liked the contrast between the deep red sky and the frame provided by the blue-grey foreground clouds. It was only when I showed it to Maria that I said I thought it looked like a dragon. “Or a pterodactyl” was Maria’s reply. And so it came to be a giant flaming pterodactyl head. At which point the quote from the Simpsons immediately popped into my mind, and I just knew I had to post the photo on Instagram.

Flow

Not a waterfall but flowing water nonetheless – some soft wave action from a glorious couple of minutes at sunset a few weeks ago.

This photo was taken the same night as this one when the sun broke through the clouds only moments before sunset. I was captivated by the gentle wash of the waves and the reflection of the pink light on the wet sand, which gave me the idea of taking a photo with a long-enough exposure to blur the waves and give the viewer a sense of that motion. It took many attempts as I did not have a tripod, plus I had to wait for the right combination of waves and wet sand. But eventually I got one that was more or less exactly what I had in mind (indeed, this was one of those rare photographs that I actually envisioned before I took it). To top it off, the contrast between the blue water and the pink reflection is just lovely to my eye.

Earthshine crescent

So the sunset didn’t amount to much, but then the moon appeared.

I was so hoping that last night’s sunset would be as awesome as the one ten years ago so I could post a glorious photo today and wonder at two sunsets on the same day a decade apart. While it looked promising, I either missed the peak colour or there wasn’t much to get excited about.

As it got darker I suddenly had a thought: I’d checked the phase of the moon a couple of days ago and figured that by now it must be visible in the evening sky. I went back out onto our balcony and there it was: a gorgeous slender crescent, with more than a hint of earthshine. Camera time! I really like the fact that there are some clouds in the sky, and the moon is even shining through them. Very photogenic.

As a side note, I think Earthshine Crescent sounds like it would be a lovely road to live on 🙂

Today’s sunset

Today’s sunset from a decade ago.

Trawling through the archives in search of more throwback Thursday shots, I found this nice sunset from April 27th, 2007: exactly 10 years ago today 🙂 I took a big panorama of the same sunset, which I combined with Autostitch, and was mostly happy with it. Fast forward ten years, and I had another go at processing the images (in DxO this time), and then combined them with Hugin. Now, that didn’t work quite so well – Hugin is definitely a more discerning program when it comes to combining photographs to create a panorama. Since this panorama was taken with our old compact camera (Canon A80), I had little control over things like the focus, and I think Hugin interprets such data at face value, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t work quite as well. I’ve since learned to focus the camera once and then turn off autofocus for any panoramas.

However, you have to look pretty closely to see the errors. Sure, if I were printing this larger, then I’d want to ensure the photos were matched up as closely as possible, but for showing on the Internet, a few pixels here and there aren’t going to show. Despite that, I think it’s still a nice picture.

Vancouver sunset, 27 Apr 2007

A moment of colour

Last night’s sunset when the sun peeked under the clouds for a few short minutes before dropping below the horizon.

I’m sure I’ve commented on this before, but it seems to happen quite often in Vancouver that a grey day ends with a brief spell of intense sunset colour. We were walking back towards the car after a wander from Jericho to Locarno Beach when we noticed the sun had dipped under the cloud layer, lighting up everything around us a dusky pink. We walked down to the water’s edge, the tide just beginning to recede after peaking an hour earlier, and watched the waves lap against the shore, the white foamy tips of each breaking wave casting a fleeting mountain-like shadow on the wet sand which reflected the deep coloured sunlight, the underside of the cloud deck now lit up a fiery pink. So pretty.

I took a couple of dozen shots hoping to capture the right wave, but none really worked. In the end I liked this composition – though this version is cropped for the Instagram format, which weakens the line of the water that I had carefully placed across the image (in the full image the water’s edge extends to the bottom right of the frame)… Oh well. The original will go up on Flickr at some point!

Spring green

A floret of green – the soft, delicate leaves of Pacific bleeding heart dotted with raindrops.

It’s that time of year when I go in search of the first buds and shoots that herald the beginning of another spring. Based on a Musqueam story I saw at the Museum of Vancouver, I headed to Musqueam Creek to look for fawn lilies. I found no lilies, but I did see lots of false lily-of-the-valley (tiny green spears poking up through the soil), indian plum, skunk cabbage, and the subject of this photo, bleeding heart. The foliage of bleeding heart must be one of the softest things I’ve ever touched, especially when it’s this fresh.

Bird sightings/soundings included: Anna’s hummingbirds, Swainson’s thrushes, varied thrushes, robins, pileated woodpeckers, flickers, some kind of wren (possibly winter?), bald eagles, black-capped chickadees, a house finch or two, and possibly bushtits. Musqueam Park in the spring is definitely a good place to hear a lot of spring-time bird song!