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Airglow Over a Night Sky Oasis | by Jeff Sullivan (
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Airglow Over a Night Sky Oasis

The green color in the sky in this photo is airglow. Oxygen atoms glow green in the earth's atmosphere, and on moonless nights you can often see traces of this green light in the sky. It's easiest to see from the side since you're looking at more cumulative photons of that light, so it's easiest to see close to the horizon. We were fortunate to have this extra natural light show in the sky as the Milky Way rose over Death Valley last week.


Lori Hibbett Olancha Peak and I were in Death Valley early last week and we were thinking about places to go shoot the Milky Way. I figured that palm trees might make a nice foreground, so we made the long trek out to Saline Valley.


We had been there before in mid-Winter, when you often need a high clearance 4WD vehicle to attempt the closed (unmaintained) road coming in from the south. Sure enough, on that trip we had to cross a landslide covering the road, and when we arrived there were gale force winds, so we hardly saw anyone around.


This time we\'ve had a light and early-ending winter, so the road from the north was open in spite of its elevation topping out over 7000 feet. The road from the south was also open, so anyone with a high clearance vehicle who wanted to test their tires (and patience) on the potholes, ruts and washboard surface of the unpaved roads could venture in.


This time when we first arrived, the first word which came to mind was "lobsterfest", for all of the sunburned-red naked folks around, crawling in and out of their hot spring lairs. Now before all of the pervs on the Internet start planning a trip here, picture average Americans... not movie stars or athletes (mostly middle-aged overweight male)... with a few old, leathery, gristly desert rats thrown in.


The main hot spring area has a fence made of natural trees and limbs to keep wild burros out, and There was an adorable baby burro just outside the fence on a small patch of lawn. He was curious and walked over to greet us. We snapped a few portraits, careful to exclude the overcooked crustaceans.


We napped a bit, waiting for the day\'s heat to subside. The palms here like the water, so the best angle to shoot the Milky Way behind the palms includes the hot springs. It turns out that lobsters are semi-nocturnal, so it was quite a while before I was confident that they\'d be out of the shots.


I went out around 1:30 am, and once again the wind here was very high. I rigged up my water bottle on a string (with a rubber band as a shock absorber) to hold the tripod down and lower the center of gravity in the high, gusty wind. The wind was still too high to trust leaving the camera out unattended, so I sat by it, downwind so the camera would land on me instead of the ground. Although the air was warm, with enough wind the wind chill still makes it cold, so after a little more than an hour I decided to put the camera way and get some sleep. The shots will make a nice time-lapse clip.

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Taken on April 29, 2014