Light Years

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Well, we are all back safe and sound from a big camping trip out west. It will take us all months to sort through and process all the photos we took, but perhaps the best inspiration to keep that process moving is to start posting a few! So without further adieu, I’m going to rob you of today’s Chicago pic to bring you the Milky Way. I’m including here all the details on how the image was made in case you are curious and have the chance to drag your camera somewhere clear and dark.

 

Quite fortuitously, our camping trip occurred while the moon was rising very late – well after sunset. Moreover, we had a new moon one night – affording us a stunning view of the brilliant heavens when the weather was clear. The Milky Way was an obsession of mine during this trip, as it and so many other features of our night sky are a rare treat for us city dwellers. The campsites at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are situated amongst ancient and massive cottonwoods along the banks of the Little Missouri. Though most of the campground was huddled in their tents, lanterns burning, we stayed up a bit, watching the last bits of twilight fade from the west. There was supposed to be quite a spectacular meteor shower much later that night, but we saw several shooting stars in the span of just a few minutes waiting to see the Milky Way. Some of the larger ones would leave orange streaks in our vision across several degrees of the sky before they would explode with a flash.

 

At night, amongst the cottonwoods, the sky was resplendent with light, but it was so far off the earth was as pitch. The universe may hum with light, but our planet and ourselves are dark matter, illuminated only from the outside, and only when struck by the light of a very close star.

 

A bit about how this image was made: the original file for this image is about 56 megapixels and was composed from 14 individual frames. Each frame was shot at 50mm, f/1.8, ISO 2000, 30 seconds. I found while shooting with other lenses at f/2.8, ISO 6400, 30 seconds the Milky Way and stars were clearly visible, but I wanted an image with huge resolution and very little noise – so I thought I’d open up a stop and a half or so and drop the ISO down as low as I could. That’s Jupiter off to the left of the closer cottonwood and you can see not only the light in the tent but also the sodium vapor/tungsten light pollution from the little village at the entrance to the park, which makes for a great orange to blue gradient across the image. Click through to tWp to see the original frames if you are interested.

 

Thanks so much you guys for putting this into Explore - added it to my ImageKind page - prints available!

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Taken on August 24, 2009
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