Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wonderful Twilight Sky - Dawn of 2016 December 20

The dawn of 2016 December 20 - a day before the winter solstice of the year - turned out to be astoundingly beautiful. The Lenticular clouds along with other type of clouds which I am not expert to classify was astounding, around 7:30 am, the faint dark cloud designs in the sky hinted me that it is going to be wonderful if it stays till sunrise which was about to happen at 8:54 am local time in Letterkenny. In the next 90 minutes, the sky literally turned out to be a wonderful canvas ever changing its color from dark grey clouds to wonderful red/yellow/pink and blue designs. I was so happy that I could capture most of it from a couple my favorite sunrise locations. Here are a few of them, the panoramas are stitched from around 10 to 20 images.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Final Supermoon in 2016 and Cathedral of St. Eunan and St Columba

Third and Final Supermoon in 2016 and Cathedral of St. Eunan and St Columba
Final Supermoon of the sequel appeared on 14th December 2016, the previous full moon was the biggest of the three.  Luckily the sky cleared up by 5:00 pm in the evening after continuous dark and cloudy spells for the last four or five days.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Portsalon Beach

World-renowned Portsalon Beach which was deemed to be the second most beautiful beach in the world
Portsalon beach situated in the North-North-West of Ireland (Donegal) in 'Lough Swilly - a glacial fjord or sea inlet' is deemed as the best beach in Ireland

Friday, November 25, 2016

Aurora Borealis from Horn Head on 24th November

Aurora selfie
The  aurora weather forecast was Kp Level of 4.0 around midnight, I started to drive from Letterkenny to my favorite and nearest Aurora view location - Horn Head Peninsula around 8:30 pm . My friend Balu joined me, and we reached there shortly after 9:00 pm, the pale green band near the horizon was visible to the naked eye, but long exposure pics exposed the Aurora very well. The night sky was very clear, but the temperature dropped below freezing. On the way back to Letterkenny the car dashboard logged -6 degree between Kilmacrenan and letterkennny, and the trees and roads on each sides turned white as frost accumulated on them.

Aurora view from the small shelter on top of the Horn Head Peninsula

A star trail picture created from 61 images captured over 30 minutes

This is the brightest image that I could capture on the night when Kp level prediction stayed at Kp 4.0

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Milkyway Over Horn Head Peninsula

Milkyway over Horn Head Peninsula
A quest for Aurora Borealis on 23rd November 2016 ended up in a Milkyway capture from the Horn Head Peninsula since the predicted Kp level of 5 didn't occur.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sunset Lit Snow Mountains view from Letterkenny

Sunset Lit Snow Mountains view from Letterkenny on 21st November 2016
The snow covered mountains turned out beautiful when the peak got lit by sun around 4 in the evening on 21st November 2016. I could view it from my office and regretted that I couldn't capture it, I gave a call to my wife at home and asked her to look out towards South East to see it, she clicked a few frames and got these beautiful snaps.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mount Errigal Peak Covered in Snow

Mount Errigal -  The tallest peak of the Derryveagh Mountains, the tallest peak in County Donegal, and the 76th tallest peak in Ireland
Mount Errigal looks so different when it snows. The above picture was taken on 19th November 2016, a couple of days before a very light snow fall/flurries happened in Letterkenny and the accumulation disappeared within no time, but the Derryveagh mountain peaks remained white for the next few days. Even though I climbed it three times in this summer, it looks scary when the peak is snow covered.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Derryveagh Mountains

Derryveagh Mountains - a pic taken on 2016 November 19
Derryveagh Mountain range is the area of Ireland with the lowest population density. Mount Errigal and Muckish are part of this mountain range.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Letterkenny at Night

The evening of the day of super moon rise turned out to be cloudy in Letterkenny, so I captured the panoramic night view of the town and the a diffuse low hanging clouds.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Maidin mhaith Geimhreadh (Good Morning Winter)

This time, it was my son Joshua George Vazhayil who woke me up to this beautiful sunrise, he got up so early and was waiting to see this, and he was so proud that he woke me up and commented that I can become a great photographer since nobody else would have got up at this time to see this - I love you Joshua.

Autumn - Statue sheds the head in advance

The statue at the entrance of Downhill Estate, Castlerock, County Londonderry with no head, did the head fall in the last fall along with the falling leaves?

Another autmn view of the entrance garden towards Downhill estate where the scenic Mussenden Temple is located

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

My Favorite Dark Sky Location in Donegal

Daytime view of my favorite dark sky location in Donegal for night sky photogray
This is beautiful place is located near the freshwater late Beara pictured below
Lake Beara, Donegal

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Halloween 2016 Fireworks at Londonderry

Halloween 2016 Fireworks at Londonderry on October 2016 along the bank of river Foyle, the peace Bridge is seen in the foreground, the raindrops on the lens made the fuzzy octagonal patches

 The 30th Halloween festival and fireworks was celebrated at Londerry on 31st October 2016. The fireworks conducted every year at the bank of river Foyle is marvelous to be watched from the other side of the river and amidst of the drizzle this year, it turned to be spectacular. The huge crowd (estimated to be 30,000) came up in Halloween costumes to celebrate the festival and to watch the parade and the fireworks.

The drizzling rain drops made it difficult to shoot any good quality pictures as the lens got water drops all over it after every couple of shots and by the time I cleaned it up, a few spectacular displays got over always.

Here are few more snaps that I could capture regardless of the drizzle. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the satellite galaxies M32 and M110

Andromeda Galaxy – produced from 186 RAW images of 9 minute and 21 seconds of exposure in total stacked using Deep Sky Stacker (DSS); individual images were of 105mm on a full frame Canon DSLR, ISO 8000; 3.2 seconds of exposure each, Custom White Balance at 3500 Kelvin,; the final image is cropped to make Andromeda fill a good percentage of the frame. Its neighboring satellite galaxy M110  is visible towards the upper right part of Andromeda and its brightest satellite galaxy M32 is visible as a fuzzy spot towards bottom of the core at the edge of the disk of Andromeda) 

Andromeda, now classified as the nearest major galaxy from Milky Way, which was once catalogued as the Great Andromeda Nebula, is the largest in the local group of galaxies in our neighborhood. It lies approximately two and a half million light years from earth and holds almost one trillion stars (10 raised to the power of 12) which means about double the star count in Milky Way.

I thought that it was impossible to capture a picture of Andromeda with a just DSLR unless aided by a telescope and a costly equatorial mount. But after reading a few articles on internet, I decided to give it a try. 24th October 2016 was a moonless clear sky night for Donegal and probably the entire Ireland. We (me and my friend Vinu Padbanabhan) set out to a secret dark location in Donegal around 11:00 pm and reached the location at midnight, the sky was astoundingly clear and dark enough that the Milky Way band was clearly identifiable as soon as the car’s headlights were turned off. Not a single source of light was seen 360 degrees around and no moon!

Here is how the final picture posted above was achieved. After indentifying a few well known asterisms, I was able to locate the approximate direction of Andromeda in the sky, I never had identified Andromeda before but I had read that it is visible to the naked eye on a clear night sky. After a few minutes I found the faint star like fuzzy spot which could be Andromeda. After setting the DSLR in manual mode, maximum ISO, auto focus turned off, manually focused at the near infinity mark, maximum aperture and maximum zoom (105mm on the 24mm-105mm lens on a full frame Canon); I pointed the tripod mounted camera to the approximate direction. I took a few shots with 20 seconds of exposure time, but couldn’t find Andromeda other than stars on the image. Every time I couldn’t find the galaxy in the image, I changed the direction slightly around the approximated location (it is very difficult to point the camera at a faint object in a dark sky as we cannot see stars through the view finder eye piece).

The final non cropped stacked image stacked using Deep Sky Stacker from 186 images

At last, I found half of the fuzzy patch at the bottom line of an image. I then carefully tilted the tripod a few times in between the next few shots so that the fuzzy patch is in the center of the frame. After calculating the direction of rotation of the stars (located the Polaris - the Pole Star and imagined the circle that Andromeda would trace in the next one hour around Polaris), the camera was aligned again by carefully tilting the camera between each shots so that the fuzzy smear of Andromeda appears in the center left of the frame and moves across to the frame to the center right when earth rotates.

 The ISO was then set to 8000 after repeated trial shots by setting the exposure to 3.2 seconds (applying the 500/focal length rule to prevent star trails, 4.75 seconds turned out to be the maximum exposure time at 105 mm), the white balance was set to color temperature of 3500 Kelvin. This entire process took around 45 minutes.

Since an intervalometer was not built-in on my camera, I installed the custom firmware Magic Lantern and used its intervalometer feature to take continuous shots with the above settings. By this time, my fingers were frozen in the cold weather of 5 degrees Celsius outside; it was very difficult to operate the buttons on the camera.

An individual unprocessed image from the 186 samples used to create the final image, note that Andromeda appears in the center as a fuzzy smear in this image
Leaving the camera alone to take continuous shots, we got into the car and turned the engine on to escape the cold weather outside as well as to prevent lens fogging (the camera was placed close to the front radiator grill of the car). A few 100 shots were taken in the next half an hour but when I inspected the camera, I found that the lens got fog on it, I checked the last few images and verified that Andromeda has moved towards the center of the frame by this time. I took the camera inside the car to heat it up and remove the fog from it, and then when it was all clear, placed the tripod much closer to the radiator grill, and repeated the alignment process all over again to have Andromeda on the left center of the frame, and left the camera on intervalometer feature to take as many shots.

Around 800 images were taken in the next 45 minutes and this time no lens fogging occurred, we took a few more wide-angle pictures of the Milky Way band and the starry sky and then packed up the equipments, drove back and reached Letterkenny by 03:30 am.

In the next few days I kept on processing the raw images multiple times and stacked the images in various combinations using deep sky tracker(DSS) software to get a satisfactory image of Andromeda and the final cropped image was produced.

To my surprise the satellite galaxies of Andromeda namely M110 and M32 turned out to be visible in the final cropped image.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Northern Lights (Aurora) view from Horn Head Peninsula on the night of 2016 October 13

Geomagnetic Storm of level G3~G1 prediction stayed active from noon time on 13th October and I couldn't wait to rush home after office hours to a North most and dark location to witness it for the first time in my life. At 3:30 pm, I rang home and asked my better half to keep the camera batteries fully charged. I finished my supper early to reach the destination as soon as night falls in, I took all my accessories (camera, a head lamp, GPS Navigation, tripod) and drove to  Horn Head Peninsula - a location from where I can look towards the North Atlantic Ocean and Horizon form 180 meter above sea level.

My effort turned out fruitful, even though the moon was 80% or 90% full, and up in the western sky, I could see a grey/green haze towards the North, but the camera captured all the colors that my naked eye couldn't see.
Out of around 200 Images that I captured between October 13th 9:30 pm - October 14th 01:30 am (Irish Time), here are the four that had distinctive features such as green pillars and purple haze over the green patch. These four clicks had a time stamp around 12:30 am Irish Standard Time on it.

The temperature was around 6 to 7 degree Celsius and within 15-20 minutes my fingers became numb and was quite difficult to operate the camera, I had to take back my camera down to my parked car a couple of times to remove the lens-fog-condensation by turning on the car heater to the maximum. A battery operated hair dryer and a pair of gloves for my hand should have helped much if I had them handy.