Watch Lenticular Clouds Form in the Moonlight

Clouds and moonlight are usually the bane of astronomers and astrophotographers. But on a recent evening at Mount Shasta in northern California, the two combined for a stunning look at usual cloud formations called lenticular clouds.

Fortunately for us, photographer Brad Goldpaint from Goldpaint Photography was on hand to capture the event. His beautiful sunset and moonlit images show these strange UFO-reminscent clouds, and the timelapse video he created provides a great demonstration of just how they form.

See the video and more images below:

A few ingredients are needed for lenticular clouds to form: mountains, stable but moist air, and just the right temperature and dew point.

According to WeatherUnderground, these smoooth, lens-shaped clouds normally develop on the downwind side of a mountain or mountain range when the stable, moist air flows over the obstruction and a series of large oscillating waves waves may form. If the temperature at the crest of the wave drops to the dew point, moisture in the air may condense to form lens-like or lenticular clouds. Since the air is stable, the oval clouds can grow quite large appear to be hovering in one place. Hence, the UFO appearance.

In the video, even though the clouds appear to be moving fast, it is a timelapse, so it shows the cloud movement over the entire night, condensed down to 30 seconds. But the video does allow us to see the fluid dynamics or laminar flows in parallel layers that creates the lenticular clouds. Plus, the stars and moonlight add to the beauty of the scene.

Lenticular clouds form at sunset over Mount Shasta in northern California, October r2015. Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography.
Lenticular clouds form at sunset over Mount Shasta in northern California, October r2015. Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography.
Lenticular clouds form over Mount Shasta in northern  California, October, 2015. Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography.
Lenticular clouds form over Mount Shasta in northern California, October, 2015. Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography.

Thanks to Brad for sharing his great work! See more at his website including his series of astrophotography workshops.

Photo Shoot Captures Classified Spy Satellite Engine Burn

Remember at the end of “Star Trek: First Contact” when Lily looks up to see the Enterprise enter the temporal vortex with a flash of light? Astrophotographer Randy Halverson captured a view very similar to that scene, albeit without time travel or Vulcans standing nearby.

“On July 28th, 2014, I was set up to shoot the Milky Way near Kennebec, South Dakota,” Halverson wrote on his website. “I had looked through some of the stills but didn’t notice anything unusual. [But] in December 2014 I was editing timelapse and when I got to the July 28th sequence I noticed something different on it. At first I thought it was another meteor with persistent train, but I had missed the meteor in between exposures. I had already caught several meteor with persistent trains on timelapse last year, so I was watching for them. Then I looked closer and noticed the flash was dimming and getting brighter. Also, when I zoomed in I could see a satellite or object right before the first flash.”

Halverson did a quick search of launches during that time and found the Air Force had launched a semi-classified trio of satellites into orbit earlier in the evening of July 28th (23:28 UTC, 7:28 EDT) on a Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and further research indicated he had captured the engine burn of one of the satellite’s final boost stage.

Just goes to show, you can never tell what you’ll see when you’re looking up!

See the timelapse below:

On board the Delta IV were two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) spacecraft and the Autonomous Nanosatellite Guardian for Evaluating Local Space (ANGELS) NanoSatellite. Halverson conferred with a few NASA mission analysts and they all agreed the flash was coming from the ANGELS boost stage firing.

“The first flash you see on the timelapse happened at 1:09am July 29th (camera time) so that also seems to match up with the timing for the final burn the article mentions,” Halverson said.

According to the Spaceflight101 website, the ANGELS nanosatellite is a project of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) and was a secondary payload on Delta IV launched on July 28, 2014. Its purpose was to do a technical demonstration flight several hundred kilometers above the belt of geosynchronous orbit (35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles). The satellite was supposed to “perform an autonomous rendezvous demonstration with the Delta IV upper stage before testing a camera system for the inspection of satellites in high orbits.”

Halverson said he used a Canon 5D Mark III with a Nikon 14-24 lens on an eMotimo TB3 mounted on a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly.

See more of Randy’s great timelapse and night sky photography work at his website dakotalapse, or Twitter.

Stunning Aurora Timelapse from Iceland, December 2014

As we get ready to wrap up the year and the month, here’s an absolutely beautiful compilation of views of the aurora — or norðurljós as they are called in Icelandic — from the month of December 2014 in Iceland.

“Even though the month is not over yet, the weather forecast does not allow any shooting the rest of the month,” said photographer Ólafur Haraldsson via email.

Haraldsson’s timelapse captures the quiet and magical beauty of the aurora and the majestic and varied landscapes of Iceland.

See more of Haraldsson’s wonderful work on his website — which includes some amazing 360 degree interactive panoramas — or on Twitter and Instagram.

Aurora December 2014 from Olafur Haraldsson on Vimeo.

Astrophotos 2012 Year in Review by John Chumack

It’s not many astrophotographers who can put together their own highlight reel, but John Chumack is so prolific and accomplished, he can do just that! From conjunctions and planets to solar activity and Moon closeups; galaxies, comets, nebulae, and meteor showers, John compiles still images and video clips for a look back at the best events of 2012. You can see more of his imagery at his website, Galactic Images or his Flickr page.

Below is one of his latest images of the wintery Milky Way:

Winter Milky Way. Credit: John Chumack

Dancing Polar Auroras Captured by Thierry Legault

Aurora over Komagfjord, Norway (northern end of Scandinavia, 70°N). Credit and Copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission

One of our favorite astrophotographers, Thierry Legault from France, took a trip to Finland and Norway so he could see and photograph the Northern Lights for the first time. Socked in with clouds in Finland, Thierry traveled to the Alta region in Norway to find clear skies. “We were rewarded with incredible auroras,” he said via Skype. “At moments, the auroras moved like curtains in the wind, too fast to be photographed!”

See below for a stunning video compilation of two nights of observing the Northern Lights over the Kamagfjord in Norway, as well as more gorgeous images of aurora and a view of the fjord in the “twilight” of midday, since there was no sunrise that far north for several days in December.

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Aurora and clouds over Komagfjord in Norway, December 2012. Credit and Copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

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Stunning aurora Komagfjord in Norway, December 2012. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

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Fisheye view of the aurora in Norway, December 2012. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission

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Komagfjord at midday (no sunrise in December). Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by perission

While this was Thierry’s first-ever view of the Aurora Borealis, we can expect this won’t be his last. “I am becoming addicted,” he said, “just like with eclipses!”

See the full set of Thierry’s images of his aurora expedition to Norway and Finland on his website, and we extend our thanks to Theirry for continuing to share his wonderful images with us.