A New Year, a New Night-Time Photography Class!

I’m happy to report that Royal Botanical Gardens has asked me to lead another Night-Time Photography class! If we get sufficient response, we’ll start at 7 PM on the evening of Thursday 26 January 2017, at RBG’s Nature Interpretive Centre. The class will run for a total of four sessions, weekly.

The class will be a hands-on opportunity to take photos at night, with an emphasis on capturing beautiful images of the sky. We’ll cover equipment, celestial objects, post-photography processing, and more. This isn’t an astronomy class per se, but we will talk a bit about astronomy. By the end of the course I am hoping everyone will feel confident going out at night with their cameras and experimenting with capturing beautiful images.

We’ll try to end each two hour classroom experience with a quick dash outside to see be seen. Guidance will also be given on photo opportunities taking place between classes.

RBG’s public program calendar is available on-line at: http://www.rbg.ca/files/pdf/education/publicPrograms/RBGexperiences1116.pdf

You can register on-line for any of the RBG programs at: https://tickets.rbg.ca/PEO/

To find the Night-Time Photography course, just click 26 January 2017 on the calendar on the web site. Registration is limited to 20.

If you are planning to take the course, please contact me ahead of time for more information. It’s recommended that participants bring their digital cameras and tripods to the first class. Digital cameras should be able to be operated completely manually. A wide-angle lens is best for this sort of photography. Tripods should be very sturdy. I can make recommendations if anyone has any questions.



A Cure for Light Pollution at Last

A new system has just been developed that promises to cure the skies of light pollution. Termed the Darklight Anachromatic Refractive Collimator, or DARC, it relies on a well-known but rarely applied aspect of the physics of light. By carefully adjusting light sources in both the infrared and ultraviolet ranges of the spectrum, light can be made to undergo destructive interference in the intermediary visible range, specifically in the blue frequencies scattered by earth’s atmosphere. The upshot of this is that the resulting interference cancels out scattered visible light, allowing stars to be seen clearly for the first time in urban areas.

A company in Iowa, DARC Fabrication Inc. has released plans that they will start to manufacture 1 meter diameter DARC projectors later this year. The company spokesperson, Dr. Jeremy Mnong, has indicated that they hope to start installing the systems on the rooftops of major buildings in metropolitan areas as demonstration units. They envision these systems working a little like searchlights, sweeping the sky of scattered light every minute or so as the DARC projectors are turned on massive motor-driven mounts. It’s also possible that DARC systems will be able to be mounted on truck flat bed trailers, and moved from place to place to provide spot coverage of particularly bad areas of light pollution.

The individual DARC projectors are expected to retail in the range of $20,000 US per unit. DARC Fabrication Inc. thinks that they can reliably produce about 500 units per year in the first year of production.

A deomnstration of the DARC system in March 2013. Three DARC beams open the polluted skies oer CHicago, Il., allowing the magnificence o f the Miley Way to shine on the Windy City.

A demonstration of the DARC system in March 2013. Three DARC beams open the light-polluted skies over Chicago, Il., allowing the magnificence of the Milky Way to shine on the Windy City.

© 2013, David Allan Galbraith

Light Pollution and Dark Skies

The world is full of the unintentional consequences of human activities. Light pollution is one of them. Where can you go to escape it?

We’re contending serious problems because of climate change, the release of chemical compounds into our environment that mimic hormones, the extinction of many, many species of animals and plants, and the list goes on. The overwhelming majority of these problems are unintentional. No one sat around thinking what a great idea it would be to lose a large portion of the earth’s biodiversity by accident. Light pollution is not on the same scale of problems as the present mass extinction crisis, but some species are badly affected by it (especially birds and insects). It has also been recognized as an issue of loss of cultural and scientific heritage.

On 5 December 2012, NASA released a series of images and videos of the earth’s surface as it looks at night, derived from photos taken by a NASA-NOAA satellite. The images have been dubbed “The Black Marble” and received a fair bit of press coverage (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html). The images are beautiful, certainly, and you get a real sense of the mass – the spread – of the human population from them. We are truly a global species (David Suzuki has dubbed us a “SuperSpecies” – influencing the lives and fates of most, if not all, other species on earth).

They are also in a sense a map of “Dark Sky” areas – places where you can still hope to get a view of the night sky without the overwhelming warm glow of stray photons from street lamps, cars, highrises – well, you get the picture. Here’s Southern Ontario, a cropped view of one of NASA’s images, a stunning high-resolution composite covering much of North America (the source file is at: http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/712129main_8247975848_88635d38a1_o.jpg).

NASA Black Marble Cropped SO

Southern Ontario at night from space, cropped from a much larger image published by NASA in December 2012, part of the “Black Marble” project. Photo credit: NASA

So, where can you go in Southern Ontario to see dark skies? A great start are areas already designated as dark sky parks or preserves. Here are some main ones, plotted on an inverted version of the NASA photo:


Ontario Dark Sky Areas 2012

Prominent Dark Sky locations in Southern Ontario, plotted on an inverted image of the area from space at night. Dark areas represent highest concentrations of light pollution. Original photo credit: NASA

  1. Gordon’s Park, Manitoulin Island (the island follows practices to encourage a “dark sky” environment) –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  2. Bruce Peninsula Fathom Five National Marine Park, near Tobermory –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  3. Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre – Wiarton, ON
  4. Point Pelee National Park –  Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  5. Torrance Barrens – NE of Orillia. Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in November 2012
  6. Lennox-Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area – about 60 km NNW of Napanee, ON

Other areas recommended by some sources include:

  • Binbook Conservation Area – about 16 KM south of Hamilton, a favourite site of the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers
  • Fingal Wildlife Management Area, 30 km from London, Ontario.
  • Bon Echo Provincial Park, 100 km north of Prince Edward County
  • Charleston Lake Provincial Park, west of Brockville

UNESCO has a dark skies designation program underway, noting that dark skies are of scientific and also of cultural value. Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is also promoting the idea of Urban Star Parks – but there seems to only be one designation so far, in New Brunswick.


Text © 2012, David Allan Galbraith