Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

For the first time in almost four centuries, there would be a lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice. Though the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, it is also a turning point to midwinter, or the first day of winter, to refer to the day on which it occurs. .These were some of my thoughts as I drove east on highway 1, having left Calgary earlier with the temperature indicating -17 Celsius on my truck thermometer. With a lot of time on my hands before the eclipse was scheduled to happen at 11:30 pm, I had decided that I would leave early afternoon, and drive east out on to the plains of eastern Alberta, where my chances of crystal clear skies would be greater that beneath the light polluted skies of Calgary. I made a stop in Strathmore to wash my truck, as it was a absolute disaster as far as cleanliness went. While in the wash bay I toweled the inner doors down, as I did not want to deal with the issues of the doors and windows frozen up once back in the cold. Back on highway 1, the temperature held steady at -17 Celsius, as I drove east towards Brooks where I would turn north, and drive up to Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Earlier, I had checked the forecast for the Brooks area, and the high for the day was forecast as being -12 Celsius, and a overnight temperature of -17C. Not taking any chances, I had loaded my truck with all my survival gear, including my heavy winter sleeping bag. Once you leave Brooks on the drive north towards DPP, your on your own, and I did not need any surprises due to being unprepared. I enjoyed the drive east, as I had company along in my radios that were tuned to the various frequencies of interest to me. Several days earlier my Garmin navigator had self-destructed, and earlier, I had stopped at GPS Central, where I had purchased a replacement. I was enjoying the new upgraded maps as I drove along, and I also was pleased with the blue-tooth capability of my new navigator. I had pared my BlackBerry smart-phone with the Garmin, and I was pleased with the hands free access to my phone. All of my BB address-book now resides on my Gamin Navigator, and it was as simple as tapping on the touch screen to dial a number, which I did as I initiated a call to my friend Brian VE6BCA in Edmonton. Brian gave me a good report on the quality of the call while we chatted, as I drove eastward on highway 1 with both hands on the wheel, and my phone in my pocket. Gotta love technology!

I filled my truck up with gas in Brooks, not wanting to be concerned about the need for gas, which can be a concern with my truck doing a lot of idling in the cold. I had just cleared the last outpost, that being Patricia, when a familiar shape on a utility pool up ahead caught my attention, and had me scrambling for my long lens. A male Snowy Owl was looking mighty fine in the last bit of sunshine just as the sun set to the west. I was concerned he might fly off before I was in range for photos, but I was pleased, as he held tight while I made several captures in the waning light. Snowys are quite interesting in the fact that they tend to be active during the day, and this allows for great captures, as they are quite easy to spot during daylight hours, as they sit on utility poles looking for any movement of their next meal. With the captures now written to my memory cards, I drove the last few kilometers to DPP. I was quite surprised with the minimal amount of snow that lie on the landscape in the park. Upon reaching the rim I shot several captures as the sun set over the badlands of DPP, before I drove the switchback road down from the rim of the canyon to the valley floor. I had a chuckle as I drove through the deserted campground, that would be full of campers in the summer months, but was deserted on this -17 Celsius afternoon.

After driving the loop trail that was freshly plowed, and takes you through the badlands before returning to the campground, I stopped and made a number of captures as the moon had now risen on the eastern horizon. It seemed strange to see the full moon, and know that it would be putting on a show somewhat later in the evening. I now decided that my chances of clear skies would be better if I drove back west a ways, as there was a haze in the skies over DPP that concerned me.
With darkness fully settled in, I enjoyed the drive back to Brooks, with stops made for photo-ops on occasion. Meanwhile, I made a number of contacts on my radios, that included Brian VE6BCA, on my radio, as well as on my BlackBerry. I also responded to several Facebook contacts, re-connecting with friends that I had not spoken with in years. Once back in Brooks, I stopped for coffee and something to eat. The skies were now clear, and shaping up nicely for the lunar eclipse. I left Brooks at 10:30pm with the temperature dropping steadily as I drove west. It was going to be a cool one, as the temperature continued dropping steadily, before bottoming out at -25 Celsius. So much for the for casted overnight low to be -17 Celsius!

I drove west on highway 1 until I left the lights of Brooks far behind, and with the moon high in the sky, I could have driven with my lights off, as the light being reflected from the snow was almost like driving in subdued sun-light. I continued to chat on my VHF radio with my friend Brian in Edmonton. At one point a text-message came in on my APRS radio from my friend Linsey VE6GAV located in Calgary. Linsey asked if I would be photographing the lunar eclipse, and I confirmed this, with a text message sent back to Linsey, via my aprs radio.
I finally pulled in to a dark site mid-way between Brooks and Bassano. The skies were crystal clear with the temperature indicating -25 Celsius. I set up my camera and long lens on my tripod, to allow the lens to become acclimatized to the cold. This was necessary, so that I would not have to deal with any heat-waves generated, due to the lens having been located in the warmth of my truck. Right on cue at 11:30pm the eclipse began, as the earth's shadow took a bite out of the moon. From time to time, I would step out in to the cold and shoot several photos. In between, I enjoyed a coffee from a thermos that I had filled in Brooks, while chatting with friends on my radios. Going on 1:15am, the eclipse reached totality, with the Earth, moon, and sun in perfectly alignment. As the moon moved deeper into Earth's shadow, the indirect sunlight passing through Earth's atmosphere, was casting an orange and red hue over the surface of the moon, giving the moon a hauntingly beautiful look. The other thing that now happened as the skies turned black, the stars began to appear, and my favorite constellation "Orion" hung in the southern sky.

At about 1:30am, I finally decided to call it done, and once I had my camera gear loaded in to the truck, I headed west towards home. Brian talked me right up to the outskirts of Calgary sometime after 2:00am, where we signed off for the night. I finally pulled on my drive-way at 2:30am, and it was about 3:00am before my head hit the pillow. Regardless, it had been a fun day, and I closed my eyes with thoughts of dark skies, and the star frost of a billion years twinkling overhead.

No comments yet