As the days shorten and the darkness progressively eats away the light, an amazing transformation happens in the northern hemisphere skies. A lot of astronomers and stargazers prefer summertime to look up at the stars, probably because conditions are better and the brightest part of our own galaxy, the milky way is more visible, even with the naked eye. Although fainter, the ‘winter’ part of the milky way and the rest of the winter sky harbor countless unsuspected gems, if one knows how to find and capture them!
In the late Fall, you can still get a glimpse at the bright core of our galaxy sink down under the horizon just after sunset, along with its dark hydrogen gas lanes, Lagoon and trifid nebulae, and Saturn. Later, you can catch Scutum (shield constellation) and its dark nebulosity set in the south west/west. In the movie, this part is visible in many scenes but my favorite one is by far as it sets on La Palma shores behind a thunderstorm accompanied by red sprites, airglow and zodiacal lights.Then, take a peek at one of my favorite areas of the winter sky: the Swan constellation. I presented it to you (also on the cover), so that you can see it from different perspectives, but the best is probably at a narrower angle to show the beautiful magenta colors of the H-alpha emission nebulae (North-American, Pelican, Sadr region or IC 1396). I also included a scene where the ‘Summer Triangle’ of Cygnus (formed by Deneb, Sadr, Delta Cygni, and Gienah) is photobombed by an overhead aurora borealis. Continuing along the winter milky way, I included a shot of the Heart and Soul nebula. Rising on the other side of the hemisphere, we are now looking at the outer edge of our galaxy, where very little light comes from fewer stars, nebulae and dark clouds (in comparison to the core!). I wanted to show you a very novel scene combining the hot Pleiades stars reflecting their blue light onto passing gasses and the California nebula glowing blood red! The next area I want to emphasize is winter’s most emblematic: Orion. I wanted to maximize the different colors and brightness this constellation has to offer while shooting it in a series of single shots: the orange of Betelgeuse and the blue of Rigel, the gigantic red-glowing Barnard’s loop, the inevitable shell-like Orion nebula along with the running man nebula, the horse-head nebula, the flame nebula, Lambda Orionis nebula… Further away from the winter milky way doesn’t mean dull at all, au contraire! Look at the magnificent Andromeda galaxy (M31), the size of 6 full moons- rise above the tree line! What about the iconic Big Dipper being photobombed by some pillars of Icelandic and Canadian aurora borealis? What about these iridescent marbles at the very start of the video? Those are twinkling Sirius, Capella (bottom left) and Vega (upper right) emphasized by the real-time out-of-focus setting to reveal the hypnotic shift in light and colors of these twinkling stars created by our own atmosphere! You will probably miss a lot of night sky events if you only watch the video once! Don’t blink, you might miss a lot of meteors (Perseids, Orionids, Draconids, Leonids…), iridium flares, low-orbit satellites, red sprites. What about those satellites that seem to ‘follow’ each other in some deep-sky scenes? Those are geosynchronous satellites normally hovering over a fixed point of the Earth, but the motion of the star tracker allows them to move whereas the sky is now immobile. I am sure professionals and amateurs will spot many more features, all you have to do is sit back and gaze!
The goal of this series of astro-lapses ‘Galaxies’ and especially this second opus was a way for me to push the limits of single astrophotography. However beautiful and numerous they are, wide-angle shots of the milky way moving against a foreground became less interesting to me as I got to shoot more and more astro-timelapses. I became more interested in exploring the possibilities that modern lenses, sensors and techniques could give, so I started using medium-format and astromodfication to take advantage of a wider light spectrum and show the red colors of H-alpha emission nebulae that are so ubiquitous in the winter part of the sky. I also wanted to improve the quality of the shots, so I used a square light pollution filter for shots at more than 50mm (Lonely Speck’s Pure Night LP filter), and a star tracker for some of the scenes to increase sharpness and details (Vixen Polarie). It was very important for me to prove that deep-sky time-lapses can be very interesting and successful, whether they hold a foreground or not, because so many things can be happening the sky (airglow, meteors, satellites, haze giving a temporary glow to the stars…). All shots have been recorded over the past year and in different countries (France, Switzerland, Spain, Iceland, Denmark and Canada). I will gladly give more details upon request. Thanks a lot for watching!