The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

The annual Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower peaks every year in early May and is the result of the debris field left over from Haley’s Comet. While it’s best viewed in the southern hemisphere, the northern hemisphere can catch some fireworks from it too on the morning of the peak. Though the shower is quiet with infrequent meteors for the northern hemisphere, it’s still known for displaying fantastic fireballs in the sky. The shower radiates from the southeast, from the constellation Aquarius.

I went out into the National Elk Refuge to watch the shower with my girlfriend and another friend early in the morning of the 6th. We bundled up with sleeping bags, and got cozy in the back of my car with the back open to watch the show. With it being early in the morning, well before dawn, we wound up falling asleep without seeing a meteor. I had my camera set up though, so I was eager to see if I caught anything on there, but unfortunately, it was a quiet shower this year in the northern hemisphere. The time-lapse from this year’s show, or lack thereof, is below. Although a night out under a nice night sky is hardly ever a waste of time.

So with such small odds at seeing an amazing meteor shower, why would I wake up so early to go watch a less-than-spectacular meteor shower? I first started watching the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower in 2013, and what I saw from it immediately made it one of my favorites. Early in the morning I saw a massive fireball explode in the atmosphere, which I not only caught a still photo of above, but also caught in the time-lapse below.

Northern Lights Over the Teton Mountains

There’s been a lot more activity in the northern lights lately over Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Many believed the peak of the solar cycle was going to hit last year, which turned out to be a relatively quiet year. With all the activity lately however, some are beginning to question whether we might be hitting the peak now, later than expected.

Regardless, skies have been lighting up recently over the area, with even more on the way! If you’re wondering how to know if they’re out in your area or not, keep an eye on a website called SpaceWeatherLive.com. I check the data listed there every night to see if there’s any chance of seeing them where I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While all the data listed there plays some role, the two main sections that I pay the most attention to are the Direction of the IMF (Bz) and the Kp-Index. If we get a strong southern direction of the Bz pushing below -5.00, or preferably below -15.00, that’s a great indicator that Grand Teton National Park could be seeing auroras. Likewise, if the Bz is south as described and the Kp-Index is exceeding 5.0, then we’ll probably be seeing the northern lights here in Jackson Hole! Typically, the auroras won’t be visible here without a Kp-Index of at least 6.0, but with other factors playing helpful roles, they can be visible with a smaller value.

If you’re interested in seeing the auroras, this is a great website to be in the habit of checking frequently as it starts getting darker. Even if it’s quiet early in the evening, activity can jump up in just a matter of a couple of hours, so be sure to check it throughout the night.

The following two time-lapses were shot within just the last week, both in Grand Teton National Park. The first was shot as storms were rolling in over Antelope Flats, and the second came from a longer night at the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

Orion Firing Comet Lovejoy

While Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2 has already peaked in brightness, Jackson Hole has only just gotten one of the only clear nights of the season so far. I took this opportunity to capture the comet before it leaves our skies.

With the comet higher in the sky, I couldn’t help but notice its position relative to the constellation Orion and how he appeared to be firing the comet out into the night sky from his bow. Of course it’s more accepted that rather than a bow, he’s actually holding a shield, but given the circumstances I prefer to think of the comet as a fiery arrow he just show from his bow. I expanded the view on my camera and began capturing this scene.

Orion is one of the most well-known constellations in the North American night sky, and for good reason. It’s a grouping of many bright stars that are easily recognizable even from major cities. It’s also home to some of the most awe-inspiring and dramatic nebulae in the night sky, constantly targeted by both professional and amateur astronomers alike.

Easily visible in this photo is the Orion Nebula, found along his sword hanging from his belt. This is perhaps one of the most well-known nebulae in North America for its easy visibility under dark skies and dramatic views under telescopes. Less apparent is IC 434 above the Orion Nebula, or more commonly known as the Horsehead Nebula. It’s found just below Alnitak, the left-most star in Orion’s Belt. Since this image is so zoomed out, making out the horsehead in this photo is a bit tricky. Just on the other side of Alnitak is NGC 2024, aka the Flame Nebula, another object that’s tricky to perceive this zoomed out, but be sure I’ll be zooming in on both in the near future.

Less commonly known is Sharpless 276, or Barnard’s Loop. This is the red loop that circles from Rigel, the bright star on the bottom-right of Orion, all the way up to between Betelgeuse and Alnitak. Using a modified Canon Rebel to pick up higher concentrations of Hydrogen-Alpha particles, this loop comes out much more vividly than it would on a standard DSLR camera.

All the way on the left side of the photo is NGC 2237, the Rosette Nebula. Though it is very close to Orion, it’s actually considered to be part of the lesser-known constellation, Monoceros, greek for unicorn and next-door neighbor to Orion, among others.

Of course, all the way on the right is the other main subject of the photo, Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2. This was discovered during August of 2014 and surprised everyone by glowing much brighter than it was ever expected to and became a welcome, but temporary, addition to the night sky while ringing in the new year.

With all this activity just in this photo, it’s no wonder astronomers look forward to winter! Clearer air and more vivid nights help too.

Jackson Hole News and Guide Close-Up Feature

If you’re in the Jackson Hole area, be sure to pick up the current weekly edition of the Jackson Hole News & Guide! In the weekly section, Close-Up, I’m currently featured for my efforts in getting Jackson, Wyoming and surrounding areas to be dark-sky compliant. I’m very honored to be featured so prominently about my work that coincides so directly with what I love.

The article goes into a lot of depth about my past and how I got to where I am now, and also brings up the issues I’m working to raise, such as the marketing potential that Jackson is letting slip by, particularly with the upcoming 2017 Total Solar Eclipse and many other nighttime activities.

For those that don’t know, over the past year I’ve been working with Wyoming Stargazing and the Teton Photography Group to bring more awareness to the Jackson Hole region about the dangers and inefficiency of light pollution. Light pollution is the scattering of light at night that obscures the night sky. If a light fixture is not shielded nor pointing down, the light scatters up into the sky, thus producing "light pollution." This creates a very negative effect on human health, wildlife and the ecosystem, safety for pedestrians and drivers, and consumes significantly more energy than is actually needed. In addition to those consequences, it drastically reduces what’s visible in the night sky, eliminating a key component of our natural, daily cycle and a source for Universal perspective.

As our progress has continued, we’ve received great support from the community, as well as the Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the latter providing a wealth of knowledge and guidance in helping us target our message to the most conducive recipients.

2015 should see lots of progress in bringing back our night skies as well as what will hopefully be my first full-length documentary, something I’m currently in the process of producing.

For those not in the Jackson Hole area, the full article can be read online at this link on the News & Guide website: Seeing the light of darker skies.

Preserving the Dark Skies of Jackson Hole

I recently completed work on my first film, Reclaiming the Night: Preserving the Dark Skies of Jackson Hole. The short film, at just over 12 minutes, discusses the issue of light pollution, how it negatively affects Jackson Hole and beyond, the vast amount of wasted energy spent on it, and how Jackson Hole can benefit exponentially from embracing the night skies, a high priority in the Comprehensive Plan.

The reduction of light pollution is a movement gaining enormous momentum around the world and Jackson has the potential to receive tremendous economic gain by encouraging both residential and commercial areas to begin turning out the lights. If you like this video, or even just the idea of bringing the Milky Way back over the town of Jackson, please contact our local politicians and demand that they use lighting more responsibly.

Thank you for your support!

The film itself was begun this past spring and editing and interviews continued into the summer where the editing process began to build a core story later into the summer. I shot many examples and stills that weren’t able to be used, but was able to find exactly what I needed as the summer began to wind down to create the message I wanted to construct. The final tweaks were made this past weekend, just a couple of days before leaving for the southwest to create the next part of the Reclaiming the Night series. “Antelope Dreaming,” the poem at the end, was written and read by Lyn Dalebout.

Restoring the Night Sky for a Healthier Future

On Monday, October 6th, 2014, I gave a TEDxJacksonHole talk on the subject of light pollution titled, Restoring the Night Sky for a Healthier Future. The talk discussed my personal experience and growing interest in light pollution, the facts and science behind how it affects each and every one us and the ecosystems we live in, and why a dark night sky is so essential and important in creating a spiritual connection to both our own species, and the infinite space around us.

On April 28th of 2014, I gave a much lengthier talk that was specific to Jackson Hole, Wyoming (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK6VmG4rYME). Though many similar concepts were shared, the TEDx talk was significantly shorter and much more polished, refined, and to the point to make it worthy of the TED name.

A list of other speakers and their topics can be found here: http://www.tedxjacksonhole.org/speakers/

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