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Updated April 13th 2019

Recent Night Sky Photography - April

Thanks to the recent spell of high pressure N. Ireland has been experiencing great early Spring weather with many dry and relatively calm days, clear nights, and several days of unbroken sunshine. I have been using this period productively by doing as much drone filming as I could however I also did two night shoots this week, one of which was at a new location. On Monday I teamed up with photographer Nigel McFarland to shoot the sunset and undertake a relaxing hour or two night sky photography. We where located at Magilligan Point and witnessed a beautiful sunset, the disk entered a bank of haze over the hills of Donegal and the solar disk became visible to the naked eye. This 400mm image (cropped) captures the scene well, also on view is new sunspot AR2738 located on the inside of the eastern limb, this spot has since grown and at the time of writing has produced B-class flares. While on the subject of the sun NASA and NOAA have released information indicating that solar minimum could be over within a year with solar maximum predicted between 2023 and 2026 (read), I look forward to those exciting nights.

Dusk transitioned into a beautiful clear night, to the west the waxing crescent moon was located near Mars and the red giant star Aldebaran within Taurus which made for a nice scene. Here's a short star trail of the twilight sky with Martello Tower (defensive monument guarding Lough Foyle - it used to have a canon on top) and the distant lights from Donegal. Light pollution is an issue in this area, especially from the prison which is why twilight seemed a better option. I shot time lapse of the crescent moon setting over Donegal then called it a night.

The following night photographer Paul Martin and I did a night shoot at a location in Co. Tyrone within the grounds of An-Creagan, a location we had been planning for some time. It truly was a gorgeous night, entirely clear, cold, dead calm with a persistent twilight glow with passing satellites and several iridium flares. This is a precise reconstruction of a bronze age fort and settlement with standing stones which made for very unique foreground for the night sky. I shot two star trails here, this is the twilight trail.

This was the longer star trail captured during full darkness, ambient sky glow and light from the moon helped illuminate the settlement, there was an internal light on inside which added extra ambience. I hope to get several more night shoots in soon before we run out of dark skies by late May, then we will be into NLC season!

Lough Foyle Convection - April 2nd

April 2nd looked to be another chase day, in fact, it looked pretty decent for so early in the season with 200 or more CAPE and Arctic air bringing several troughs of showers and possible thunderstorms and with CAPE present all evening and into night time it looked to be a long day out on the road watching the skies. I spent much of the afternoon on the hills inland monitoring the clouds however it soon became apparent during prime heating time that something was wrong with the atmosphere. The clouds never reached a great height despite good lapse rates, they almost looked capped, however this couldn't be possible with -35C air at the mid levels and aloft, furthermore the towers and cells looked very mushy and lifeless so I knew at this stage it was likely game over.

During the late afternoon I was chatting with a storm chaser from Co. Down and after examining soundings we figured out what the likely problem was. The skew-T revealed a very large temp-dew point spread, actually it was very large indeed above the surface, this indicated poor moisture depth so cells had little to feed on, furthermore it also explained the high bases. That being said I went out again in the evening as convection was trying harder than ever to do something. I ended up at the north coast before sunset and ventured on to Magilligan beach where I saw a line of convection crossing Lough Foyle from R to L in the Nly flow, so I set-up the Mavic 2 Pro and flew out to reveal the scene with this foreground.

Nice towering cumulus and several low topped anvils out to the W catching the late evening sunshine, below the towers rain and hail showers were falling yet at Magilligan the sun was blazing as it lit up the beach, dunes, Martello Tower and the pier which made for quite a pretty scene. Even though the day was technically a bust I never came home empty handed and any time spent out in nature is always time very well spent indeed.

Storm Gareth High Precip Thunderstorms & Benone Storm Surge - REPORT

March 12th 2019 introduced a deep low pressure system named storm Gareth which would bring 80mph winds to the coast, high seas, and convective potential in a strongly sheared set-up with tornado potential. I spend 12 hours on location at the north coast where we got treated to non stop squally showers, ocean thunderstorms with active c-g rates and a dramatic cell before sunset. When darkness fell sporadic lightning flashes lit up the sky however the highlight of the event was a dramatic storm surge on Benone beach when the sea suddenly covered the beach and propagated across the concrete road like a tsunami. One page report with 13 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Severe Thunderstorm Outflow Event At Benone Beach - REPORT

March 10th 2019 provided me with a chase day I couldn't ignore with decent instability for so early in the season with -40C upper air in the wake of a cold front. It would be a day of convection, hail and snow showers with a risk of thunderstorms. I chased to the north coast as a base of operations and hooked up with John fagan on Benone beach. By mid afternoon a large thunderstorm fired over Donegal then made its way to our position, as it overtook us the storm turned severe delivering a spectacular downdraught at 58.6mph with a barrage of hailstones and sand flying across the beach at high speed engulfing a fisherman who braved the onslaught, by definition this was a severe thunderstorm and a thrilling encounter. One page report with 9 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Church - March 10th

On Thursday night I hooked up with Paul Martin, we decided to head out on a photo shoot as the forecast promised us a good clear night. We were planning on Donegal however satellite imagery confirmed high level cloud arriving on the west coast earlier than anticipated, however inland did look to stay clear for longer so we changed our plans and decided on a local shoot. We found this beautiful isolated church in Co. Tyrone which got our attention, not only did it look photogenic and accompanied by spooky trees but it was located well away from any street lights with dark skies and an abundance of stars on view. That situaton is a rare commodity indeed, the dark structure was also lit from within by a green security light which greatly aided with its mood. We stayed here and took exposures until 03.00, we also shot a star trail and short time lapse before the high level cloud moved in. I have a few more images to edit and post later.

Gortin Glen & Seven Sisters Aerial Winter Scenes - NEW REPORT

New Report

On February 2nd 2019 a cancelled night shoot turned into an early morning Winter shoot. Three friends and I spent 8 hours exploring the Sperrins in Co. Tyrone after a cluster of overnight snow showers had passed through leaving a beautiful sunny Winter's day in their wake. We spent much of the day obtaining drone imagery and aerial footage of the beautiful scenes on this area had to offer. The adventure began in the -3C snow-covered Beaghmore Stone Circles then relocated to Gortin Glen lakes, the stunning Gortin Forest route, then climaxing with beautiful ice patterns on the frozen Seven Sisters lakes on the Omagh road during Golden Hour. One page report with 15 images and 3 video clips. - REPORT.

Winter Cumulonimbus Time-Lapse Shoot At Benone Beach - NEW REPORT

New Report

January 16th was my first storm chase of 2019 thanks to the arrival of unstable Arctic air with CAPE and wind shear increasing from 20 to 60 knots throughout the period which would generate convective showers of hail and snow with coastal areas indicating the greatest potential. I spent the entire day and night at the north coast with photographer Nigel McFarland shooting Winter cbs, DSLR time-lapse sequences & even drone footage of convection. After dark we captured sheared moonlit cells, time-lapse and even a surprise military flare exercise. We spent 12 hours on location and I acquired 2700 DSLR images to render. One page report with 16 images and 2 video clips. - REPORT.

Beautiful Winter Scenes At Binevenagh & Aerial Snow Photography - NEW REPORT

New Report

A surprise phone call from a mate alerted me to a good snowfall event on the morning of January 30th 2019 so I dedicated this day to aerial snowscapes with the Mavic 2 Pro. I spent the day filming snow scenes at Swatragh wind farm and Mussenden Temple however it was the Magilligan area which offered the greatest show surrounded by widespread snow to sea level reminding me of scenes from 2010. The highlight of the day was the spectacular Binevenagh mountain covered in deep snow complimented by polar blue skies and perfect sunshine which I documented by drone. This mountain provided me with epic scenes and my finest Winter reveal aerial footage to date, I captured panos and video footage making this an unforgettable snow shoot. One page report with 15 images and 3 video clips. - REPORT

Dramatic Thundersnow Gust Front Approaches Benbradagh - NEW REPORT

Thundersnow Gust Front

January 22nd 2019 brought a much anticipated episode of Winter action to the hills of N. Ireland when an unstable air mass advected across the country bringing convective hail and snow showers. I drove to Benbradagh mountain near Dungiven where a fresh snowfall had taken place and for the next hour I got treated to sunshine and glorious blue skies which I documented by obtaining aerial video and imagery using the drone. Suddenly the sky darkened announcing the arrival of a huge cell with a sheared anvil that began moving rapidly in my direction. As the cell advanced it formed a spectacular shelf cloud almost touching the ground which provided the best Winter storm structure I have ever experienced. The cell impacted the area with frozen pea-sized hailstones, snow and rare thundersnow which made for a thrilling experience. One page report with 16 images and 3 videos. - REPORT.

Hunting Celestial Wraiths - An Observing Guide To Comets - EBOOK

Welcome to the first ever ebook from Nightskyhunter. This book is aimed at the amateur astronomy enthusiast who is interested in observing comets with the assumption that the reader already has some basic knowledge of the night sky and is competent with observing through binoculars and telescopes. Through 'Hunting Celestial Wraiths - An Observing Guide To Comets' my aim is to cover many of the most important and interesting aspects of the visual comet observing spectrum with the intention of allowing the reader to choose which level of skill he or she may wish to invest within this fascinating field with the information and confidence to take things to the next level and provide valuable cometary observations which could be of scientific value.

The book is complimented with many of my own comet sketches including detailed extracts from my observing logs showcasing many comet observing sessions over the years which is the heart and soul of the book. It is my hope that these sessions will make you feel you are looking through the eyepiece with me. The book is 119 pages with 28463 words and 4.050KB in size and available as a pdf document which costs £5.99. I can accept payments through paypal or direct transfer, simply EMAIL ME if would like to make a purchase, thanks very much. - READ MORE.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports

Storm Chasing & Photo Shoots

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in. One other such area is severe weather which will be playing a major role on nightskyhunter from now on in conjunction with my other astronomical pursuits. Check out my new N. Ireland Storm Chasing section and view the chase reports and images which detail not only storms but other phenomena such as a moonbows, noctilucent clouds and aurora displays.

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Martin McKenna