NightScapes: Chasing the Light across the night sky. Exploring the techniques of capturing one of Natures most exciting photographic opportunities. We'll look at still photography, deepsky photography, and time lapse photography. We'll talk about navigating across the Constellations to identify what we discover. We will keep it as simple as possible and try to have some fun along the way as we explore techniques and contraptions, capturing and processing, posting and sharing, and maybe throw in a workshop or two. Join me as I set sail across the ocean of the's gonna be fun!

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Conversation With the Stars

A family of coyotes howled together somewhere across the corn stubble field north of my location, their serenade echoing off the side of an old barn and filtered through the surrounding tall trees. The moon approached the last vestiges of its monthly cycle and would remain hidden for several more hours so the evening was forecast as dark and clear. The thick hoodie I wore was most welcome as a light breeze stirred the night air into a colder than expected evening and I pulled the hood over my ears to keep out the chill. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the brilliance of the evening sky with its countless points of light dancing in the night air played out their opening song before the main performance. For the next several hours as the night deepened, the stars and I carried on an ever more interesting conversation.

A few of the planets spoke first as they hovered as bright sparks of light set apart from all the others. Massive Jupiter shouted the loudest and I lifted a pair of binoculars to take a closer look at what it was saying. Several tiny points of light extended to one side of its intense glow...three of its moons waved back and bid me welcome. A thin layer of clouds almost to opaque to notice drifted across and created a hallow effect around Jupiter. High in the southeastern sky appeared another point of light was glowing with a soft amber hue...Mars said, "I too want to join tonight's conversation."

Straight overhead where the stars appeared most brilliant the sky was much darker in texture. Along the horizon just above the tree line a feint but warm shallow light pollution glow highlighted the taller trees against the background making them appear as mysterious marching apparitions.

To the west the warrior Orion drew his bow above the horizon. His distinctive and grand pose shouted with confidence. Hovering amongst his sword a massive cloud of gas where new stars are born was set alight with their newly formed energy.

I rotated the finder scope on the star tracker and aligned it with Polaris offset just enough toward a sister star called Alkaid to allow for a proper track. The 1 rpm motor drive was connected and generated its distinctive hum as it turned the tracking drive shaft. Using a large 500mm lens I drew his sword closer in so I could hear better what he was saying and captured for the first time a hidden world where those stars were born.

A rather shy and quiet part of the sky gained my attention and I rotated the camera toward its depths, reconnected the drive motor and opened the shutter. A full minute passed before the exposure was complete. What appeared as a dark patch of sky spoke with more confidence as newer stars were revealed in the image. I realized they were there all along, speaking softly just waiting for someone to capture their soft glow.

All through the evening the stars and I continued our conversation, they would say, "Look over this way for here you will find something amazing," and I would. No boundaries slowed the moments and as one conversation died down, a newer one began when other portions of the sky rose above the horizon. As many stars as there were, they were only the outskirts of a greater city of stars that eventually came into view. First, the head of Scorpius raised its three stars above the treeline, its tail and stinger arching just out of sight. Below them following shortly thereafter arose Antares glowing with a bright, orange hue. Before long the heart of the Milky Way made its first appearance and joined in our conversation. As the camera hummed and the tracking motor purred I followed the sky to the left of Antares and a most amazing sight materialized. Thousands of stars were singing across a giant coliseum filled with glowing gases and swirling dust clouds of such size and portions, simply to comprehend the vast array of their place amongst the universe boggles the mind. On the upper right reared the stallion of the Dark Horse of the Milky Way. Just below where the brightest part of the glow filled the view was the center of the Galaxy. It's hard to imagine just how far away it truly is...some 26,000 light years...or put into another perspective...the light I captured on that evening began its journey some 26,000 years ago to finally be captured by the sensor of my camera.

As the night drew into and well past the early hours of the morning, my internal clock suggested it was time to call an end to this marvelous conversation. Reluctantly, I began to shut down the mechanisms by which I visually communicated with the stars, and I when crawled into a safe and much warmer bed, my mind continued to stir about the marvelous revelations the stars we so kind to share with me. I knew this moment was to continue and just postponed until another time, another dark evening until I could again explore the amazing stories told through a conversation with the stars.


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