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Updated September 1st 2014

Glen Chapel Star Trails - Aug 31st

I'm in full star trail mode at the moment while patiently waiting for Autumn aurora and storm photo opportunities, this time I stayed local and decided to try one of my favourite places for peace and tranquility - Glen Chapel outside Maghera near Glenshane Pass. Clouds cleared and the stars came out as dusk twilight transitioned to full darkness so I drove to the chapel and set-up two cameras shooting simultaneously, thankfully the second cable release I ordered had arrived earlier that morning so I now have the capability two shoot star trails from two different angles at the same time, my 450D was shooting with the 18mm lens and my main gear was the 600D (above image) at 10mm ultra wide angle. I knew my window of clear sky wouldn't be long as satellite imagery indicated more cloud coming in from the W so I had to be decisive and with that said I was shooting within min's of my arrival. I was pleased to have got this amount of trailing before the cloud arrived and ended the attempt, it was difficult to shoot because of the sodium lights from streetlights behind me and from local buildings which added to the overall light pollution so I ended up with this rather strong yellow/orange cast in the long exposures, however in some ways it contrasts quite well against the cooler blue tone of the starry sky aloft. The church and stars made for a beautiful visual sight and the silence made the moment even more atmospheric.

The clouds cleared once again so I tried another star trail however once I got 'in the zone' the clouds came back with intent so this really was my last shot of the night, I liked the image regardless and do prefer this composition, this is probably 4 four or five 10mm frames stacked together, I would certainly like to try this again on a better night. I met a late night visitor within the graveyard, we got chatting and ended up watching the stars and pointing out the constellations together so overall it was a very pleasant photo shoot and for once I was back home at a reasonable hour after midnight.

Dunluce Castle Star Trail & Interview - Update

August 26th was a rare clear moonless night so Roisin and I decided to go on a photo shoot to the Co. Antrim coast and although there was a slight chance of aurora I wasn't expecting anything significant to happen during the night hours from or latitude based on recent timing from the CME model forecasts. My own prediction was that the CME would hit around 03.00 in the morning and then take hours before activity would get generated after this with the peak activity kicking off during daylight hours. This was exactly what happened - a late night CME impact with a KP5 storm in the daytime which actually lasted rite through to darkness on the falling night however cloud and rain prevented any attempt at photography although there where a few captures in the clear gaps from Donegal and Mayo.

Back to the night of the 26th I had another plan and that was to try a star trail around the legendary Dunluce Castle so this would be my first time trying this kind of photography from this ancient location. The night was perfect, the sky was black, the Milky Way was brilliant and thank goodness the temperature was slightly warmer than of late which made standing on the cliff much more bearable, there was a welcome gentle breeze which stopped dew forming on the lens, the only downside was a thick layer of mist across the horizon which blocked out the fainter stars, despite this short coming we got a result. This taken with the 18mm lens wide open with 30 sec exposures for a duration of almost one hour, the trail to the upper right is from a high altitude passenger plane, while we waited we observed eight meteors in the northern sky before a warm brew was sampled from the flasks we had prepared earlier - a fun night under the stars.

Had a fun interview with Anne Marie McAleese from BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday afternoon from Drumlamph woodland outside Maghera, the interview was a casual chat about my interests in Astronomy, aurora hunting and storm chasing and will be featured on the channel's 'Your Place & Mine'' show during September, it should be available online soon so I will post a link on here once it gets aired. I will also be featured on another radio show in September regarding Glenshane Pass - all these interviews have been great fun and it has always been a pleasure to meet such nice and well known radio personalities and chat about my passion - there will be more to come this year. Many thanks to Roisin for taking the above image for me.

Tyrone Lake Star Trails - August 22nd

Had a fantastic photo shoot and observing session on Friday night with Paul Martin at a beautiful lake in Co. Tyrone outside Omagh and for once the sky was perfectly clear for hours on end. I spent the night doing star trails with the 10mm lens using 30 sec exposures at ISO800 and conditions couldn't have been better with a cool but gentle breeze blowing across the lake which prevented any dew forming on the lens so the camera could do its thing unchecked. I got three star trails completed during the shoot, this above was 1 hour in duration with a total of 120 exposures stacked together.

This one was taken towards the end of the session and is the shortest of all three trails however I rather liked the scene. The breeze vanished and the atmosphere turned still however the dew didn't take long to form and soon the lens was covered so I had to cut this star short, I thought the scene had a Halloween quality to it. We observed some rather decent meteor activity, two mag +1 meteors shot across the N sky behind that tree both sporting long orange coloured tails, however the climax of the night was the mag -6 fireball which dropped into the SW and lit up the top of the trees and hence becoming a shadow caster!, believe it or not I caught this fireball on the far L of the frame, however the short exposure, wide angle lens and dew on the glass stopped it registering on camera in the manner in which it should have done, however I wasn't complaining. Paul was testing out his brand new full frame Canon 6D and wide angle fast lens, we had a great time testing the camera's amazing potential while shooting comets and the Milky Way. A fun night under the stars and I can tell you we really appreciated that clear sky!

Dunluce Castle Purple Aurora - August 19th

A weak CME from a filament eruption on the sun impacted Earth's magnetic field a glancing blow during the afternoon of August 19th however due to its weak nature NOAA forecasters didn't expect much to happen - and it didn't during the time of impact - however several hours later in the wake of the CME the magnetic field was disturbed enough to generate decent aurora potential which was much greater than predicted, at first a G1 storm was anticipated however the aurora ended up getting upgraded to a G2 event which shocked everyone. The oval was bright and well down over Scotland and brushing the top of N. Ireland with a south tilting Bz so all the ingredients were in place for the first aurora of the new season. I was excited about the potential all day and had already planned to shoot the storm from the Co. Antrim coast, everything seemed perfect and the forecast was for clear skies too - or so it seemed - and that's when nature decided to play up.

At sunset Sat24 showed a complex of shower clouds moving down from the N over the ocean heading straight for the N. Ireland coastline and it was obvious that getting any clear skies at all was going to take more than luck, during dusk I was in a semi panic trying to choose a location taking into consideration the cloud situation, my brain said inland however my heart said the Antrim coast, the best bet for clear skies was inland to the S however there was a lack of cool foreground for photography and the stronger light pollution would reduce the impact of the aurora on camera, on the other hand if I went to the coast there was a much stronger chance of being clouded out however if I got a couple of gaps then the photographic results would be more fruitful, so I decided to take the risk and follow my heart and as darkness fell I went straight to Dunluce Castle.

Just as I arrived into the empty car park I saw a large clear gap in the clouds to the N and NE so I immediately made my way down to the barrier in front of the castle, set up my camera with 18mm lens, and began taking exposures as the clouds grew closer, I didn't have long. This was the result, the blue-purple glow covering the sky was the upper region of the aurora, the green band typical of any aurora display was hidden above the horizon by cumulus clouds however the purple canopy was picked up on camera, I switched off my LCD screen and once my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see this same feature with the naked eye as a colourless diffuse glow 20 degrees above the horizon, I had just enough time to take a few exposures however I was in full battle with the elements, this is August isn't it?, well standing on that high ground near the castle felt more like a November night with a cold Nly wind blowing off the sea which was strong enough to shake my tripod and mess several of my images, luckily I took a few and I got one or two during the brief moments when the wind relaxed its meteorological muscles.

I quickly switched to the 10mm ultra wide angle lens for a final shot before the clouds rolled in for good for the rest of the night. I waited anyway just in case the clouds broke and during the wait I bumped into photographers Alistair Hamill and John, we ended up standing under the clouds and showers for hours having a great chat about photography, storms, and auroras which I greatly enjoyed, there's nothing better than being on location and using cloudy periods to chat with like-minded people who share the same passion for the sky and photography. A few breaks appeared later in the night so all three of us went back to the castle to take more images however the aurora activity had greatly waned and was not evident on our images, we did see a star-rich clearance in the E with a rising crescent moon with earthshine to end the night. I was back home for 03.00 with some imagery of the first aurora of the new season. I expect a busy season ahead with more significant displays however I hope the clouds will be more kind to us next time.

* All images on the site are available for sale as photo prints, canvas, and digital image and video files for licensing, simply email me and I can sort you out no problem, thanks very much for reading.

Ballintoy Harbour Star Trails - August 14th

I had a nice night on August 14th shooting star trails at the Co. Antrim coast, there where some cloud issues however Sat24 revealed a clear corridor over the ocean between Scotland and central/ E N. Ireland coastal areas, I choose Ballintoy Harbour which was perfectly located in the clear sector then got to work making star trails over the dramatic Roark's cottage, these where 30 sec exposures at ISO1800 and stopped down a little taken on continuous shooting mode for 40 min's then stacked using startrails.de - the result covers twilight through to astronomical darkness combined with the glow from the rising moon which was a nice combination, the cottage was illuminated by the harbour lights. Observed four Perseid meteors and several iridium flare satellites, the beauty about shooting star trails is that - given ideal conditions - one can let the camera go to work while the photographer gets the rare chance to stand back and take in the stars at his or her leisure without distraction.

Moneymore Flooding & Ballyronan Storm Rotation Report - NEW

Moneymore & Ballyronan Thunderstorm Report

Detailed report documenting 9 hours of storm chasing, first in Omagh then a second evening chase intercepting the strongest thunderstorm of the year in N. Ireland in a well sheared environment with 1300 CAPE & LIs of -6. This organised storm with supercell traits made an impression over Co. Tyrone where I intercepted it's high precipitation core in Moneymore where it produced flash flooding which affected traffic and property. I chased the storm, punched the core & encountered incredible rotation & wrapping under the updraught base in Ballyronan then ended this 4 hour storm hunt near Toome watching lightning as dusk arrived. One page report with 12 images & 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Desertmartin Thunderstorm Image Report - NEW

Desertmartin Thunderstorm Report

An early afternoon intercept of a high precipitation organised thunderstorm in a sheared environment over the Sperrins featuring dramatic cloud structure captured from a freshly cut hay field outside Desertmartin on a warm and humid August 3rd 2014 . My girlfriend and I chased the storm then punched the core between Tobermore and Maghera where it produced monsoon-like rainfall with flooded roads and lightning. A very successful, fun and highly photogenic local storm chase. One page report with 7 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Mullaghmore Thunderstorms & Funnel Cloud Image Report - NEW

Mullaghmore Thunderstorms Report

June 7th 2014 was the first of four days in a row of thunderstorms across parts of Ireland and N. Ireland. This was a very successful storm chase day with 12 & 1/2 hours on the road in a very unstable environment loaded with 1300-1500 CAPE and LIs between -4 and -5 which produced intense thunderstorms which we intercepted at the Mullaghmore coastline in Co. Sligo. We got treated to beautiful thunderstorms over the ocean in full sunshine with close range lightning followed by a high based funnel cloud. I also caught my first ever daytime lightning bolt on camera making this a thrilling day to remember. One page report with 13 images & time lapse video footage. - REPORT.

Stunning Dungiven Thunderstorm & Funnel Cloud Report - NEW

Stunning Dungiven Thunderstorm & Funnel Cloud Report

Best chase of the 2014 season to date when my girlfriend and I documented a spectacular convergence zone thunderstorm from Brenbradagh Mountain outside Dungiven on May 26th. We experienced the entire life cycle of this strong thunderstorm for over two hours without having to move position once while staying completely dry in sunshine as the storm grew and evolved rite before our eyes producing a funnel cloud, close c-g lightning, and the best shelf cloud and storm structure I have seen for years. Also included is a funnel cloud over Donegal Bay captured by my Dad from Rossnowlagh on the very same day. Report with 21 images & 2 video clips. - REPORT.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports

N. Ireland Storm Image Reports

Astronomy is not the only subject I am 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