March: a night sky full of wonders...

As we are advancing into the spring and with the equinox just behind us, Denmark has been the place of peculiar sky phenomena in the past month. Let yourself overwhelm by the stunning beauty of Danish spring nights!

This winter has been what you can call a Viking one: endless nights, cold and overcast/windy days. No real occasion to shoot the night sky has sprung in over four consecutive months, and it is as if we haven’t seen the sun in years- or the stars, at least! However the change is typically sudden over southern Scandinavia, and this year hasn’t been any different. We have now had beautiful days and sometimes in a streak! And it gave us plenty of opportunities to shoot the multiple events that occurred this month.

The first one was an aurora display two weeks ago (March 1st) which kicked off quietly, building and then releasing a bright G1-storm blow. Unfortunately the sky got covered by the clouds just at the wrong moment, but I was still able to picture some of the scenes, and more importantly I got to spot my first proton arc! During a solar storm, a proton arc can develop like a front beside the actual aurora and takes a more faded color, but very interesting patterns, and it moves very quickly! Watch the video here:

The Second event was probably seeing the full moon and Jupiter (and its moons) 4 degrees apart! A nice picture for the phenomena:

The next series of events happened during a week-long starry night streak (except for some periods of time, you will soon understand why...).

In spite of the solar minimum and we have been able to witness an aurora show on March 21st 2017 which gave a powerful blast at midnight for only a minor storm. We had been waiting over 4 months to see a display like that! And the wait was finally over but it's not so easy to be at the bottom of the hill in the sun's cycle. The NOAA promised a G1 storm on March 1st, and we got a good show from 8:00pm til 10:00pm but Lady aurora was hardly visible through the fast moving storm cells and showers!! Then around 11:00pm it snowed for an hour, so I went back home and I thought my night was over. As I look back at the magnetometer before going to bed, it's going crazy again and the rain had let up, clearing up! I hurried back to the point I was shooting at and got in just in time to capture these magnificent green and pink pillars (G2 storm)! The marvelous show lasted only minutes, but it was well worth going back!

During this period of time with unarguably clear skies, (one of the clearest I have witnessed in Denmark on March 23rd!), I have been taking around 5000 to make up for the long winter empty-handed and try different astrophotography with different settings and techniques on my new Canon 6D Baader modified. Most shots were designed for time-lapse, some of them I tracked, and a few of them ended up as a stacked panorama. All in all, I should say that I am absolutely content with the results and I am finally nearing what I want to achieve in the art of astrophotography (even though one can only improve!). Some of the photos contain another remarkable light phenomenon: the zodiacal lights or false dawn. The event peaks during the equinoxes (so March here), and is a faded light emanating from the reflection of sunlight (although set) in tiny inter-planetary dust particles in space, giving a spectacular pyramidal-shaped column of light towards the west at sunset and east at sunrise (In the astronomical twilight though!). I captured the phenomenon on some panoramas and in a short time-lapse video that you can watch when scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the page!

Gaze at the winter milky way and its magnificent nebulae (Orion, Barnard's belt, The heart and Soul nebula, the California nebula...) one last time as it will soon be too bright to see it: here is a panorama I just finished today taken with my Canon 6D Baader modified (15 x 45' @ 85mm, ISO 1600, f/2.5, tracked with iOptron Skytracker).

In the mean time, the summer milky way is making its appearance with the shield constellation region (Scutum) with its distinctive dark nebulae arms spreading downwards, rising up to 60 degrees around 4:00 am. Most importantly, the core of the milky way is finally visible! By visible, I mean it is the best period of the year to observe it, as it rises with a tilted angle, allowing Danes to spot Antares, the Dark Horse Nebula and most of the upper core of our galaxy (Eagle, Omega, Lagoon nebulae, Gum 84). Now you have to know that photographing the core is a hard thing to do in Denmark, because it is most of the time hidden, blurred or washed by light pollution, haze and damp in the atmosphere, as it is very low on the horizon. Finding a crystal clear night with no haze is extremely rare, but it happened on the night of March 23rd, where I stayed all night on Ordrupnæs with my tracker and three cameras to shoot both time-lapse and stills. The atmosphere was really special and indescribable. The still waters of the Baltic were mirroring the milky way rising and the night sky moving, and all was silent, immobile even. You could just hear the calls of distant birds, and every once in a while from those I was obviously disturbing! Scroll through my gallery of pictures from that night:

As for the pure pleasure of your eyes, let's wrap up this article with the final time-lapse film product that summed all the outstanding phenomena in March. Enjoy :)