Calgary

Amateur astronomer's Aurora Borealis photo lands on Canadian stamp

Calgary photographer, and author Alan Dyer talks about how it feels to have one of your photographs chosen to be on a new Canadian stamp.

'It is always a treat to see one of your images in print, but this is a rare privilege indeed'

Alan Dyer with the new Canadian stamp that features his photograph of the northern lights. Dyer shot the photo in 2016, in Churchill, Manitoba. (Image © Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com)

If Canada Post was going to choose an amateur astronomer's photograph of Aurora Borealis to feature on their new stamp, they chose the right man in Alan Dyer.

That's because, thanks to his winter habit of spending time in Churchill, Manitoba, the Calgary astronomy author and photographer — and part-time eclipse chaser — may have shot more photos of Aurora Borealis, from the very best vantage point on the planet, than just about anyone.

It turns out Dyer routinely travels to Churchill every winter to teach tourists how to photograph Aurora Borealis at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre — and the tourists show up, hundreds of them, every February and March to see the northern light show for themselves.

There, he takes advantage of the endless northern Manitoba winter nights to shoot time-lapse photographs of the glorious northern night skies.

"When you do time lapses, you're taking hundreds or even thousands (of images) perhaps in one sequence," Dyer said, in an interview Wednesday with The Eyeopener.

"I've taken thousands and thousands.

"This one might have been part of a time-lapse sequence, come to think of it actually, rather than just a single image."

150th anniversary of RASC

The genesis of how Dyer's work came to be selected for a stamp dates back to 2016.

"Canada Post researchers contacted me as long ago as October 2016 with the idea at that time that  they were going to issue — in 2018 — these astronomy stamps to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the RASC (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) — one of the national organizations of astronomers … across Canada." he said.

The newly-issued Canada Post stamp featuring a photo taken by Calgary astronomer, photographer and author Alan Dyer. (Canada Post)

Short listed

Thanks to lobbying efforts by officials from the RASC, the project was approved, and Dyer landed on their short list.

"How they short-listed it, I don't know, but the pic they used from me was picked in October, 2017, and we had to keep it all a secret until last Friday night, when it was all unveiled," he said.

In addition to Dyer's stamp, a second image, of the Milky Way, by Matt Quinn — also a RASC member — was selected.

For Dyer, whose photos have been featured on Spaceweather.com, APOD Astronomy Picture of the Day, the Weather Channel, NBCNews.com, CBSNews.com, Earth & Sky, UniverseToday, The Guardian, and in National Geographic magazine — among many others — it was never explained why Canada Post selected one of his photos, but he's not complaining, either.

"I guess the decision was made to not feature telescope images, or pictures from observatories or professionals — but rather images from amateur astronomers, members of the RASC," he said.

"The researchers found it. They liked that particular image — and then I had to advise on what stars or constellations there were in the image and label them, because the stamps are overlaid with labels of the stars and constellation patterns."

Each stamp also contains secret information that can only be revealed with a black light, Dyer said.

"If you view it under black light — UV light — information about the specific information longitude and latitude the exposure information, the camera lens — all of that is there too."

On his Amazing Sky blog, which features an astonishing array of night sky photography, Dyer acknowledged that making it onto a stamp feels pretty cool.

"It is always a treat to see one of your images in print, but this is a rare privilege indeed."



With files from The Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca