A New Home for Nightscapes

“Climber Trails”, from my gallery of film startrail classics.

The internet has evolved tremendously since its early days when I first tried to use web pages to show the results of my nighttime photography.  Back then, our (dial-up) Internet Service Provider (ATT) offered a home page and a URL subspace to their customers.   I took advantage of it and crafted some pages to hold my pictures and stories.  Later, I acquired my own domain, nightscapes.net, found a host, loaded my stuff onto it and even got some professional help to re-organize when it became unwieldy. 

I learned that maintaining a website can be a lot of work; the technology evolves, links and scripts break, web page conventions, html standards and visitor expectations change.  I’m not a programmer (despite a lifetime of doing it), and my interests are in the art and science of images, not the latest network and browser technologies for supporting the latest desktop/laptop/tablet/phone displays.

So I was excited to discover a website service oriented toward photographers, a platform with a small army of support people who maintain it, with features that display photographs at their best, regardless of display or browser, keeping up with the latest updates to internet programming standards.  They offer additional services for professional photographers (“buy print”, etc), and at an earlier time I might have subscribed to them.

But I am happy now to keep the shopping cart icons suppressed and not distract from the images themselves.

I have transferred my collection of nightscapes accumulated over the last two decades, over to smugmug, where you can find it at thorolson.smugmug.com.  I know people don’t power-browse through large collections of pictures, so I consider this to be really more of an archive, to continue my project of making a digital coffee table book of my favorites.

But I will also use the site to display my more recent work, as I complete it.  It will be a relief to have a way to do so without the overhead of manually creating and integrating new web pages for them. 

I intend to make posts to this, my personal website, when I add new photographs.  I invite you to subscribe or “follow” me, which will send you an email when new posts are made.  I am not very prolific in my art, so you will not be inundated, and if you are intrigued by the types of pictures I like to take, well, I take enjoyment in sharing them and would love to have you as a follower.

Nightscape Odyssey Goes to Press!

By the miracles of modern technology (a technology I contributed to!), it is possible to self-publish a book without a minimum printing run of thousands or more.  I recently took advantage of one of these services to make a limited edition of my collection of stories and essays, Nightscape Odyssey, posted previously on this site. 

It was tricky to get the layout just right; it took two proofs, but I’m happy with the result and the experience was satisfying, especially taking delivery of the final copies.  Even more satisfying was giving them away as gifts. 

If you didn’t get one, it was because you probably aren’t one of my nephews or nieces, whom I felt should have some artifact of their odd uncle’s interests, and stories about what road trips were like way back when.   Don’t worry though, if you really want a copy of this book, the same company that published them for me can make one for you!  You’ll have to pay the going rate however, and you may find it more than you want to shell out for just another coffee table book. (https://www.blurb.com/b/10435240-nightscape-odyssey)

But if you don’t insist on an actual physical hard-cover book, Nightscape Odyssey can be had for free!  A pdf version is available for download (20MB).  I hope you enjoy it!

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae
Portage Lake, MN, 25 Nov 2000
20-minutes at f/4, Kodak PJ400 color negative film, pushed 1 stop

This is a favorite target for astrophotographers. It’s a famous image, but quite challenging to capture, partly because it is only visible during the winter months when Orion the Hunter is up. The weather conditions will always be cold, at least in the northern latitudes, and so winter gear is required.

It is not easy to actually see this target. The nearby bright star, zeta Orionis, is a convenient marker, but its glare easily washes out the faint glow of the Horsehead and another nearby object just below zeta, the “Flame Nebula”.

Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula
Portage Lake, MN, 25 Nov 2000

This is a very large region of sky, but the beautiful red remnants of this supernova explosion are faint. One of the attractive features of the Rosette is the cluster of stars at its center. One of these may be the star that expoded eons ago leaving this signature shell of expanding and glowing gas.

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 04 March 2000
E200 Ektachrome, superposition of two 10-minute exposures

On most winter nights, the distinctive constellation of Orion the Hunter is plainly visible in the southern sky.  Orion sports a “belt” from which hangs a three-star “sword”.  The Orion Nebula is the smudge of the middle star in Orion’s sword.  A closer look at it reveals that it is not a star at all, but a group of stars shrouded in a cloud of dust and glowing gas.  This is a stellar nursery where new stars are being formed.  As the gas coalesces, it is energized and emits a characteristic red glow, not bright enough to be seen visually, but captured nicely on film.

North American Nebula

North American Nebula
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 07 June 2000

In the constellation Cygnus, (the Swan) is a large complex of glowing gas nebulas, and this portion has a shape suggestive of a familiar continent.  The strong red color is easily recorded on film, but large telescopes and special filters are needed to make it visible to human night vision.  The bright star on the left, “62-Cygni (xi)”, dominates this picture, but if you were to look at the sky, it would not be particularly noticable among the dozen even brighter stars in this constellation!

Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse
20 January 2000, 10:55 pm CST, Minnetonka MN
Nikon-F at prime focus of Takahashi CN-212 (Newtonian 820mm at f/3.9)
2 second exposure on E200 Ektachrome

If we were on the moon during a lunar eclipse, the Earth would be backlit, and everywhere along its edge is at either sunset or at sunrise. The sky there is familiar to us: red and orange, the colors refracted slightly around the Earth’s edge by the air. It is this reddish-orange light source that illuminates the moon when the sun no longer hits it directly.

This picture was taken during the midpoint of the eclipse when the moon was deepest in shadow. The “bottom” of the moon is brighter. This means that the moon didn’t pass through the dead center of the Earth’s shadow, but toward one side.  The visual appearance was a dim grayish brown, but a long enough exposure on film shows the red component to its color.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence

Lunar Eclipse Sequence
Minnetonka MN, 20 Jan 2000, first image 8:55 pm CST
Nikon-F at prime focus of Takahashi CN-212 (Newtonian 820mm at f/3.9)
E200 Ektachrome

I have seen a total lunar eclipse before, but it was by accident, and I was unable to successfully photograph it. This time I knew it was coming and the skies were clear, but the brutally cold temperatures caused me to find excuses to stay indoors. I was goaded into it however by my son, who pointed out that I had acquired considerable cold weather gear, equipment, and specialized clothing for my peculiar hobby. If not now, when would I ever put them to use?

Of course to maintain any sense of pride, I quietly took his point and proceeded to set up in the neighborhood open area. It is directly under a streetlight which exposed my activities to the neighbors, whose curiosity was not deterred by the temperature. By the time the edge of the moon started to dim, a small group of kids and their hardy parents had assembled to see what would happen.

Our informal eclipse party would last for the next few hours, with people cycling through neighboring houses, returning with hot chocolate, warmed-up feet, and more participants. My own schedule called for taking an exposure every ten minutes, not quite enough time to leave my post.

It was enough time to explain what was happening and to show views though the telescope as the edge of the Earth’s shadow crossed the face of the moon. I like to explain that if we were on the moon, the Earth would be backlit, and that everywhere along its edge is at either sunset or at sunrise. The sky there is familiar to us: red and orange, the colors refracted slightly around the Earth’s edge by the air. It is this reddish-orange light source that illuminates the moon when the sun no longer hits it directly.

It is interesting that the edge of the shadow shows a bit of brownish cast. As the last bit of direct sunlight hits the very edge of the moon, the orange-brown shadow details emerge. It has been there all along, but our eyes can now adapt to this much dimmer light level.

These views are quite similar to the visual experience. At full totality however, the moon seemed to be a grayish brown color. The deep red in the photo is not artificial; the film sees it better than we do.

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy 
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 08 Oct 1999
E200 Ektachrome, pushed +2 stops
Superposition of two 20-minute exposures

The Andromeda Galaxy spans a portion of the sky that is larger than the full moon!  But a full moon would wash out the sky, making the galaxy hard to see, even with binoculars.  When the sky is dark it can be seen as a hazy smudge, making it the most distant object (more than two million light years away) that we can see with the naked eye.

In the eyepiece of a telescope the smudge becomes larger, but to detect the wonderful spiral structure and faint blue outer arms of this galaxy requires the light-accumulating power of a piece of film placed at the telescope’s focal point.  The stars in this picture are in the foreground, artifacts from our own galaxy, which we must look through to see into our neighbor’s part of the universe.

Planet Rise

Central Minnesota, 11 July 99
E200 Ektachrome

The subtle details of the night sky fade away with the dawn, but the brightest remain: the planets Jupiter and Saturn rise above a windbreak on a prairie farm.  The sky will brighten and they will eventually be lost (though if you know where to aim a telescope, they can be found again in broad daylight)!

On this occasion, the clear skies held through the night.  The distant haze provided the right conditions to spread the long rays from the sun.  It’s an unusual transition of colors from orange to blue, a combination not found in many other places in nature.  The planets poke holes in the otherwise smooth shading.