Gorgeous Photos of Earth and the Night Sky: TWAN Photo Contest Winners Announced

The winners of the 7th annual Earth & Sky Photo Contest have been announced, and wow, these images are absolutely stunning! The contest really highlights the beauty of the night sky, and its mission is to spread the message to cut down on light pollution while helping to preserve the last remaining natural night environments and night skies in the world. The contest was organized by The World at Night (TWAN) and other sister organizations.

“The sky above us is an essential part of our nature, a heritage for us and other species on this planet,” said TWAN founder and contest chair, Babak Tafreshi.”The contest main goal is to present the night sky in this broader context that helps preserving the natural night sky by reconnect it with our modern life.”

See more winning photos below:

The second place winner in the ‘Against the Light’ category is Carlo Zanandrea from Italy for "All that Glitters is not Gold" taken in December 2015 showing constellation Orion rising over lights and fog in the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy. Credit and copyright: Carlo Zanandrea.
The second place winner in the ‘Against the Light’ category is Carlo Zanandrea from Italy for “All that Glitters is not Gold” taken in December 2015 showing constellation Orion rising over lights and fog in the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy. Credit and copyright: Carlo Zanandrea.

Just last week, a group of Italian and American scientists unveiled a new global atlas of light pollution, and sadly, they said the results show the Milky Way is “but a faded memory to one-third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans.”

“We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,” said Chris Elvidge, a scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos — and it’s been lost.”

These photos from Earth & Sky Contest really display that important connection, with people and places on Earth being a big part of many of the images – the classic definition of “TWAN-style” photography. According to the contest theme of “Dark Skies Importance,” the submitted photos were judged in two categories: “Beauty of The Night Sky” and “Against the Lights.”

“The selected images are those most effective in impressing public on both how important and delicate the starry sky is as an affecting part of our nature, and also how bad the problem of light pollution has become,” TWAN said in their press release. “Today, most city skies are virtually devoid of stars. Light pollution (excessive light that scatters to the sky instead of illuminating the ground) not only is a major waste of energy, it also obscures the stars, disrupts ecosystems and has adverse health effects.”

"The Photographer" by Nicholas Roemmelt from Austria is the second place winner in the 'Beauty of the Night Sky category, taken in March 2015 in Stockiness, Iceland. Credit and copyright: Nicholas Roemmelt
“The Photographer” by Nicholas Roemmelt from Austria is the second place winner in the ‘Beauty of the Night Sky category, taken in March 2015 in Stockiness, Iceland. Credit and copyright: Nicholas Roemmelt

The winning images were chosen on their “aesthetic merit and technical excellence,” said David Malin of the judging panel, who is well-known pioneer in scientific astrophotography. “We believe they accurately reflect the state of the art in TWAN-style photography. The competition encourages photographers with imagination to push their cameras to their technical limits, and to produce eye-catching images that appear perfectly natural and are aesthetically pleasing.”

This photo, "Viking Lights" by Adam Woodworth from USA, won in the composite section of the ‘Beauty of the Night Sky’  category, where frames of various exposure or focus settings are blended. This image was captured in Newfoundland, Canada in June, 2015. Credit and copyright: Adam Woodworth.
This photo, “Viking Lights” by Adam Woodworth from USA, won in the composite section of the ‘Beauty of the Night Sky’ category, where frames of various exposure or focus settings are blended. This image was captured in Newfoundland, Canada in June, 2015. Credit and copyright: Adam Woodworth.
In the photo sequence submissions, the winner in the Beauty category is "Total Solar Eclipse from Svalbard" by Thanakrit Santikunaporn from Thailand. He captured the eclipse phases every 3 minutes over frozen landscape of Svalbard, Norway on March 20, 2015. Credit and copyright: Thanakrit Santikunaporn.
In the photo sequence submissions, the winner in the Beauty category is “Total Solar Eclipse from Svalbard” by Thanakrit Santikunaporn from Thailand. He captured the eclipse phases every 3 minutes over frozen landscape of Svalbard, Norway on March 20, 2015. Credit and copyright: Thanakrit Santikunaporn.

The contest was open to anyone of any age, anywhere in the world; to both professional and amateur/hobby photographers. It has been an annual event since 2009 (initially for the International Year of Astronomy) by TWAN, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and Global Astronomy Month from Astronomers Without Borders. The contest supports efforts of the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) and other organizations that seek to preserve the night sky.

The images were taken in 57 countries and territories including Algeria, Antarctica, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guam, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Reunion (France), Romania, Russia, Scotland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Spain, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, and USA.

See all the images and more information about them at TWAN. Click on each image for larger versions. A larger version of the lead image can be found here.

You can see the global atlas of light pollution here, which was created from data from the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite and calibrated by thousands of ground observations.

And here’s a video that includes all the winning images:

Metropolitan Milky Way

JanikAlheit-CPTMilkyPano

This article was written by contributing author Janik Alheit, and is used by permission from the original at PhotographingSpace.com.

When it comes to my style of photography, preparation is a key element in getting the shot I want.

On this specific day, we were actually planning on only shooting the low Atlantic clouds coming into the city of Cape Town. This in itself takes a lot of preparation as we had to keep a close eye on the weather forecasts for weeks using Yr.no, and the conditions are still unpredictable at best even with the latest weather forecasting technology.

We set out with cameras and camping gear with the purpose of setting up camp high up on Table Mountain so as to get a clear view over the city. The hike is extremely challenging at night, especially with a 15kg backpack on your back! We reached our campsite at about 11pm, and then started setting up our cameras for the low clouds predicted to move into the city at about 3am the next morning. For the next 2 hours or so we scouted for the best locations and compositions, and then tried to get a few hours of sleep in before the clouds arrived.

At about 3am I was woken up by fellow photographer Brendon Wainwright. I realised that he had been up all night shooting timelapses, and getting pretty impressive astro shots even though we were in the middle of the city. I noticed that the clouds had rolled in a bit earlier than predicted and had created a thick blanket over the city, which was acting as a natural light pollution filter.

I looked up at the skies and for the first time in my life I was able to see the core of the Milky Way in the middle of the city! This is when everything changed, the mission immediately became an astrophotography mission, as these kind of conditions are extremely rare in the city.

How to Photograph the Milky Way
Learn how to shoot the Milky Way at PhotographingSpace.com!

Composition

After shooting the city and clouds for a while, I turned my focus to the Milky Way. I knew I was only going to have this one opportunity to capture an arching Milky Way over a city covered with clouds, so I had to work fast to get the perfect composition before the clouds changed or faded away.

I set my tripod on top of a large rock that gave me a bit of extra height so that I could get as much of the city lights in the shot as possible. The idea I had in my mind was to shoot a panorama from the center of the city to the Twelve Apostles Mountains in the southwest. This was a pretty large area to cover, plus the Milky Way was pretty much straight above us which meant I had to shoot a massive field of view in order to get both the city and the Milky Way.

The final hurdle was to get myself into the shot, which meant that I had to stand on a 200m high sheer cliff edge! Luckily this was only necessary for one frame in the entire panorama.

Gear and settings

I usually shoot with a Canon 70D with an 18mm f/3.5 lens and a Hahnel Triad 40Lite tripod. This particular night I forgot to bring a spare battery for my Canon and by the time I wanted to shoot this photo, my one battery had already died!

Luckily I had a backup camera with me, an Olympus OMD EM10 mirrorless camera. I had no choice but to use this camera for the shot. The lens on that camera was an Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5 kit lens, which was not ideal, but I just had to make it work.

I think this photo is a testament to the fact that your gear is not nearly as important as your technique and knowledge of your surroundings and your camera.

I started off by shooting the first horizontal line of photos, in landscape orientation, to form the bottom edge of the final stitched photo. From there I ended up shooting 6 rows of 7 photos each in order to capture the whole view I wanted. This gave me 42 photos in total.

For the most part, my settings were 25 seconds, f/3.5, ISO 2000, with the ISO dropped on a few of the pictures where the city light was too bright. I shot all the photos in raw as to get as much data out of each frame as possible.

Editing

Astrophotography is all about the editing techniques.

In this scenario I had to stitch 42 photos into one photo. Normally I would just use the built-in function in Lightroom, but in this case I had to use software called PTGui Pro, which is made for stitching difficult panoramas. This software enables me to choose control points on the overlapping images in order to line up the photos perfectly.

After creating the panorama in PTGui Pro, I exported it as a TIFF file and then imported that file into Lightroom again. Keep in mind that this one file is now 3GB as it is made up of 42 RAW files!

In Lightroom I went through my normal workflow to bring out the detail in the Milky Way by boosting the highlights a bit, adding contrast, a bit of clarity, and bringing out some shadows in the landscape. The most difficult part was to clear up the distortion that was caused by the faint clouds in the sky between individual images. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to blend so many images together perfectly when you have faint clouds in the sky that form and disappear within minutes, but I think I did the best job I could to even out the bad areas.

JanikAlheit-CPTMilkyPano
Photo: Janik Alheit

A special event

After the final touches were made and the photo was complete, I realized that I had captured something really unique. It’s not every day that you see low clouds hanging over the city, and you almost never see the Milky Way so bright above the city, and I managed to capture both in one image!

The response to the image after posting it to my Instagram account was extremely overwhelming. I got people from all over the world wanting to purchase the image and it got shared hundreds of time across all social media.

It just shows you that planning and dedication does pay off!

Astrophotography Book Review: Treasures of the Universe

Treasures of the Universe by André van der Hoeven

What is a treasure? A pirate’s hoard of gold coins safely locked up in a chest would certainly fit. But would you say that something is a treasure when it’s freely available to anyone who wants to take the time? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it. Yet you may change your mind once you take in André van der Hoeven’s book “Treasures of the Universe – Amateur and Professional Visions of the Cosmos”. Within it are striking images that display the natural wealth and beauty that constantly surrounds us and that no chest could ever lock up.

Astrophotography at its core is quite simple; at night, take a camera outside, point the lens up and snap the shutter release. Anyone can do it. However, putting reason to what one captures in the lens is quite a different story. And to add further complexity, consider combining your captured image with someone else’s who’s taken a picture while on another continent or while in space. Last, after taking thousands of images, identify those with artistic as well as scientific merit.

Yes, this is a more complete way of considering astrophotography. And many people are partaking in it. So here’s a book that’s selling its version of night sky images. For anyone who enjoys the night skies, there’s a lot to like. The contents are divided into four groups; galaxies, clusters, nebulae and our solar system. Most images from beyond our solar system are well known, whether of entries in the Messier catalogue or the New General Catalogue (NGC). A few are of farther afield, such as from the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field.

The image presentation is often on a double page spread and has complementary text adjoining. The text provides the scientific merit usually by identifying how the subject of the image fits into the scheme of things, such as the supernova SN2011fe in the Galactic Wheel. The text also provides the photographic particulars, such as that of the Andromeda galaxy that resulted from the compilation of 11 000 separate snapshots. The selection of images makes for a fairly well known set and won’t lead to surprises. Given this, van der Hoeven’s book is a comfortable, complete treatise of his astrophotography.

Now views of space are everywhere on the Internet and other publications so you’re probably wondering “What’s this book bring to the table?” so to speak. After all, a lot of its images come from other government sources like the Hubble space telescope. That’s data free for anyone to peruse. And, the subject of the images, the universe, remains in place for anyone else to capture if they so desire. Both of these are true, but what isn’t obvious is the time and effort to create the images as well as the talent to engender a sense of artistry. Can you imagine the time to compile 11,000 pictures into one? Or spending over 27 night-time hours to collect data for one image? That’s the sort of time and effort involved.

Measuring artistry is another skill altogether and one of which I lay no great claim. Yet, looking at the composition of the spread of the Wizard Nebula warmly shrouded by a complex hydrogen cloud makes me pause. Yes, I know I’m looking at the result of the random arrangement of matter and energy. But there’s something just so darn compelling about the shapes and textures that makes me wonder. And I realize my wonder comes from the skill of the author in composing the shape. I’m impressed.  This doesn’t mean that the author has claimed any predominance. Rather, throughout the book he provides encouragement and incitements for bigger and better. Whether it calls for astrophotography from the next-generation telescopes or for beginner astrophotographers to develop their skill, it pushes for more and better imagery. Yes, this book is more than just pretty pictures. It’s also instructive and telling. Another unusual aspect is that the book was funded through a Kickstarter.

As with a few other marvelous books with vistas of the universe, this book’s pages are in in a wide format (almost landscape size). The pages have matte-black background with clear white font text. The text for each image is usually clear, except for some with underlying images of light colours. These are few. For the selection of images, I find ones of galaxies and nebulae most rewarding. Finding shapes and patterns from clusters is more challenging.

And, after seeing the depth and expanse of the universe, I find the images from our solar system almost ordinary, though I know I shouldn’t. I like the section at the book’s end that describes the image details including the telescope, the camera and the exposures for various filters. Perhaps I can use these to dabble at my own artistry. I also appreciate the credits that list all the data sources and perhaps the people who processed the data, though these aren’t always obvious. I don’t like that the book had to eventually come to an end. I could have kept looking at many more pages.

Treasures are a measure of worth. For those who like gold, a pirate’s chest may be the ultimate high. For those who are drawn to the night, to the limitlessness of space, then the jewels of the night sky are the only ones worth viewing. For you who like the night, let André van der Hoeven’s book “Treasures of the Universe – Amateur and Professional Visions of the Cosmos” spirit you away to a viewing pleasure. With it in your hands you will hold more than any pirate’s chest could ever contain.

Milky Way with Nearby Constellations by Matt Dieterich

Constellations near the Milky Way by Matt Dieterich

Here’s an amazing photograph of the Milky Way by astrophotographer Matt Dieterich. He took the image a step further, however, and identified all the constellations you can see close to the Milky Way.

You’ll want to click this image and see a bigger version.

milky way constellations
Full panoramic view of the constellations near the Milky Way by Matt Dieterich

Right down near the horizon is Sagittarius – it looks like a teapot, with the Milky Way rising like steam from its spout. Many of the brightest, most spectacular nebulae in the night sky are located around this constellation: the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, and the Omega Nebula. The 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way is located in this region too.

Further up the Milky Way you can see the three constellations that form the Summer Triangle: Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila.

And right on the left side of the photograph is Cassiopeia, with its familiar “W” shape.

In the lower-right of the image are a few constellations from the zodiac: Scorpio, Libra and Virgo. And if you look closely you can see Saturn making its way across the sky, in the plane of the ecliptic.

If you’re interested in learning about the night sky, I highly recommend you take your time and learn your constellations. These are your wayposts, navigational aides that help you find your way across the Universe, to the wonders right there in the sky above you.

Matt used a Nikon D750 camera with a 24mm f/1.4 lens. The whole image is made up of 20 separate exposures of 15 seconds each, stitched together to make this amazing mosaic. He captured this image from Glacier National Park in Northern Montana.

Here’s the original version, without the highlighted constellations. Once again, you’ll want to click to see the full resolution goodness.

Milky Way by Matt Dieterich
Milky Way (without the constellations) by Matt Dieterich

You’ll want to check out the full resolution version on Matt’s Flickr page.

A big thanks to Matt for contributing this picture to the Universe Today Flickr pool. If you’re an astrophotographer, you’ll be in good company, with thousands of other photographers who share their pictures. We’ve got more than 33,000 pictures there now.

This Road Leads to the Heart of the Milky Way

The Path by Tyler Sichelski

This road near Phoenix, Arizona leads to the heart of the Milky Way. Well, that’s assuming your car will handle the 26,000 light-year drive, and can fly through, uh, space. And you can endure the cold, radiation and space madness. Anyway, you get the metaphor.

Tyler Sichelski took this photo of the galactic core, the central bulge of the Milky Way. It’s a region of incredible density and activity, and at the very heart, hidden from our view is the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, with 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Within a parsec’s distance of this black hole, there are thousands of old, main-sequence stars as well as some of the hottest, brightest stars around.

Path by Tyler Sichelski
Path by Tyler Sichelski

Unfortunately, we can’t actually see the center of the galaxy because of the gas and dust that obscures our view. And in this photograph, you can actually see the dark dust lanes and regions. Many of the nebulae you’re familiar with are in this picture, like the Lagoon Nebula, the Omega Nebula and the Trifid Nebula. In fact, it’s hard to know where one nebula ends, and the next one starts.

Tyler used a Canon 6D camera with a 16-28mm f/2.8 lens. He took 10 separate exposures of the sky and then stacked them up in Photoshop.

Of course, you should check out more of Tyler’s photographs at the Universe Today Flickr photo pool (nearly 2,000 members and 33,000 photographs now). This is a place where astrophotographers share their photos of the night sky, and then we reshare them on our website and across our social media.

Solar Analemma 2015: A Year-Long Picture

If you took a picture of the Sun every day, always at the same hour and from the same location, would the Sun appear in the same spot in the sky? A very fine image, compiled by astrophotographer Giuseppe Petricca from Italy, proves the answer is no.

“A combination of the Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt and its slightly elliptical orbit combine to generate this figure “8” pattern of where the Sun would appear at the same time throughout the year,” said Petricca.

This pattern is called an analemma, the full version shown below:

A compilation of images of the Sun taken at the same time and place over the course of 2015, as seen from Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca.
A compilation of images of the Sun taken at the same time and place over the course of 2015, as seen from Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca.

Continue reading “Solar Analemma 2015: A Year-Long Picture”

Watch Fast and Furious All-sky Aurora Filmed in Real Time

If seeing the Northern or Southern Lights hasn’t been crossed off your bucket list yet, this video is the next best thing to seeing the aurora live. Astrophotographer extraordinaire Thierry Legault has captured spectacular views of the Aurora Borealis from Norway, filmed in real time.

“I was in Norway in early November,” Thierry told Universe Today, “this was my 5th stay and really the best one, with incredible auroras. At moments they were so large and fast that we didn’t know where to look.” He added they were “totally hypnotic.”

The 16-minute video includes 6 of the best sequences Legault captured. “I included the start and finish of the sequences to show their behavior to people who have never witnessed them,” he said. “The auroras seem to be alive, sometimes like snakes or rivers.”

Legault used a Sony Alpha 7s, which he says is the only camera able to record video like this in such lighting. The video is recorded at 25 frames a second.

For the best view of the video, switch to full HD mode (1080p) and full screen.

Legault has been going to Norway annually to see the aurora. Here are the views he captured last year.

See more of Legault’s work at his website. He has technical pages there with advice for capturing the night sky. He provides more details and tips in his excellent book, Astrophotography.

Pre-Order “Treasures of the Universe” Astrophotography Book Through Kickstarter

Treasures of the Universe by André van der Hoeven

We’ve featured the photography of André van der Hoeven here many times, and all of his photos are wonderful. Well, now you can get them all in one big book, titled Treasures of the Universe.

This 150+ page book contains photos of most of the major objects in the Solar System as well as deep sky objects, like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. van der Hoeven provides many of the pictures in the book, and then fills out the rest with the highest quality photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer, Subaru and many of the top observatories around the world. There are also great photos from rovers and spacecraft sent to distant worlds (including the latest pictures of Pluto from New Horizons). If you want a coffee table book with great images of space, it’s a great choice.

Treasures of the Universe by André van der Hoeven
Treasures of the Universe by André van der Hoeven

The book is currently being run as a Kickstarter, but unlike most campaigns, this book is complete and ready to go to the printers, so you’re really just deciding if you want a copy or not – a printed, signed copy or an electronic PDF.

At the time I’m writing this, there are just 5 days left in the Kickstarter, which is already fully funded. This project is already happening, but you can help André reach the stretch goal of 25,000 Euros.

The Kickstarter ends on Monday, November 30th at 3:00pm Pacific Time.

Comet Catalina Grows Two Tails, Soars at Dawn

Amateur astronomer Chris Schur of Arizona had only five minutes to observe and photograph Comet Catalina this morning before twilight got the better of the night. In that brief time, he secured two beautiful images and made a quick observation through his 80mm refractor. He writes:

“Very difficult observation on this one. (I observed) it visually with the 35mm Panoptic ocular. It was a round, slightly condensed object with no sign of the twin tails that show up in the images. After five minutes, we lost it visually as it was 2° degrees up in bright twilight. Images show it for a longer time and a beautiful emerald green head with two tails forming a Y shaped fan.” 

Comet Catalina was about 3 high over Lake Superior near Duluth, Minn. IU.S.) at 5:55 a.m. this morning. Stars are labeled with their magnitudes. Details: 200mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 1250, 3-seconds.
Comet Catalina stands some 3° high over Lake Superior near Duluth, Minn. (U.S.) at 5:55 a.m. this morning, Nov. 22. Stars are labeled with their magnitudes. Details: 200mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 1250, 3-seconds. Credit: Bob King

Schur estimated the comet’s brightness at around magnitude +6. What appears to be the dust tail extends to the lower right (southeast) with a narrower ion tail pointing north. With its twin tails, I’m reminded of a soaring eagle or perhaps a turkey vulture rocking back and forth on its wings. While they scavenge for food, Catalina soaks up sunlight.

I also headed out before dawn for a look. After a failed attempt to spot the new visitor on Saturday, I headed down to the Lake Superior shoreline at 5:30 a.m. today and waited until the comet rose above the murk. Using 7×50 binoculars in a similar narrow observing window, I could barely detect it as a small, fuzzy spot 2.5° south of 4th magnitude Lambda Virginis at 5:50 a.m. 10 minutes after the start of astronomical twilight. The camera did better!

Chris's first photo was taken when the comet rose. This one was photographed minutes later with twilight coming on. Credit: Chris Schur
Chris’s first photo was taken when the comet rose. This one was photographed minutes later with twilight coming on. Credit: Chris Schur

With the comet climbing about 1° per day, seeing conditions and viewing time will continue to improve. The key to seeing it is finding a location with an unobstructed view to the southeast — that’s why I chose the lake — and getting out while it’s still dark to allow time to identify the star field and be ready when the comet rises to greet your gaze.

Two views of Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina made around 6:23 a.m. EST (11:23 Universal Time) on Nov. 21st. The left photo is a 30-second exposure with dawn light approaching fast. Exposure at right was 10 seconds.
North is up and east to the left in these two photos of the comet made by Dr. D.T. Durig at 6:23 a.m. EST on Nov. 21st from Cordell-Lorenz Observatory in Sewanee, Tenn. He estimated the coma diameter at ~2 arc minutes with a tail at least 10 arc minutes long . “I get a nuclear magnitude of 10.3 and an total mag of around 7.8, but that is with only 5-10 reference stars,” wrote Durig. Credit: Dr. Douglas T. Durig

Alan Hale, discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp, also tracked down Catalina this morning with an 8-inch (20-cm) reflector at 47x. He reported its magnitude at ~+6.1 with a 2-arc-minute, well-condensed coma and a faint wisp of tail to the southeast. In an e-mail this morning, Hale commented on the apparent odd angle of the dust tail:

“Since the comet is on the far side of the sun as seen from Earth, with the typical dust tail lagging behind, that would seem to create the somewhat strange direction. It  (the tail) almost seems to be directed toward the Sun, but it’s a perspective effect.”

Venus glares inside the cone of the zodiacal light this morning at the start of astronomical twilight over the shoreline of northern Wisconsin. Jupiter is seen at top and Mars two-thirds of the way from Jupiter to Venus. Credit: Bob King
Venus glares inside the cone of the zodiacal light this morning at the start of astronomical twilight. Jupiter is seen at top and Mars two-thirds of the way from Jupiter to Venus. Arcturus shines at far left. Credit: Bob King

There were side benefits to getting up early today. Three bright planets lit up Leo’s tail and Virgo’s “Cup” and a magnificent display of zodiacal light rose from the lake to encompass not only the comet but all the planets as well.

‘Explody’ Taurid Meteors Produce Persistent Trains

“The landscape was just at the verge of trying to silently explode with vibrant colors of red, gold and oranges,” said photographer Brad Goldpaint as he described the autumn view during his hike to Deadfall Basin in California to set up his cameras to try and capture a few Taurid meteors.

But the landscape wasn’t the only thing about to explode.

Later that night Brad captured a few “exploding” meteors that produced what are called persistent trains: what remains of a meteor fireball in the upper atmosphere as winds twist and swirl the expanding debris.

Brad created a time-lapse video from the event and slowed down the footage to highlight the trains.

Persistent trains have been difficult to study because they are rather elusive. But lately, with the widespread availability of ultra-fast lenses and highly sensitive cameras, capturing these trains is becoming more common.

Phil Plait still has the best description out there of what happens when persistent trains are produced:

As a meteoroid (the actual solid chunk of material) blasts through the air, it ionizes the gases, stripping electrons from their parent atoms. As the electrons slowly recombine with the atoms, they emit light — this is how neon signs glow, as well as giant star-forming nebulae in space. The upper-level winds blowing that high (upwards of 100 km/60 miles) create the twisting, fantastic shapes in the train.

The consensus among our Universe Today Flickr pool photographers who posted images of the Taurids this year is that the 2015 Taurids weren’t entirely remarkable. Most astrophotgraphers reported they saw one or two per hour. Here are a few more Taurid meteor shower images from our photographer friends:

A bright Taurid fireball on November 9, 2015. Credit and copyright: Mark Sansom.
A bright Taurid fireball on November 9, 2015. Credit and copyright: Mark Sansom.
Two Taurid meteors from the November 2015 shower, on November 10, 2015. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.
Two Taurid meteors from the November 2015 shower, on November 10, 2015. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.
A bright Taurid meteor is reflected in a lake in Illinois. Credit and copyright: Kevin Palmer.
A bright Taurid meteor is reflected in a lake in Illinois. Credit and copyright: Kevin Palmer.