Monday, March 11, 2013

Stargazing the winter night sky

"Stargazer" - photographed near The Watchman mountain, Zion National Park ~ © Royce Bair
As we approach Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the brightest portions of the Milk Way, the central bulge, disappear below the horizon for several months (and appear in the Southern Hemisphere). However, other stars take their place on the night stage, i.e. Sirus, the brightest star in the sky, and the Orion Constellation — arising only in the winter months.

At the top of this photo is the planet Jupiter. Between the man's legs (my son, Chris) is Sirus. Above his outstretched arms is the Orion Constellation, the Hunter of Greek Mythology, known mostly as the domain of the reddish star Betelgeuse (the star above his left hand, pronounced "beetlejuice") and Orion's Belt: Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the three blue stars arcing upward (above his head). The three stars between his head and right hand are the hunter's sword, the center not actually being a star, but it is the Orion Nebula—the closest star formation to the earth, with a mass that is 2,000 greater than our Sun. And, the star above his right hand is Rigel, the brightest star in the constellation. The cloud of stars to his left is part of the Milky Way.

Technical info: Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, using a Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II lens @ f/2.5 • 13 seconds • ISO 6400.

Help from light pollution: Some have asked, "How are the peaks illuminated behind the man?" There is a valley between the hill my son is standing on and the mountain behind him. In that valley is the small town of Springdale, Utah. The light pollution from the town (mainly, from the orange-ish sodium vapor street lamps) is illuminating the peaks. Because it is such a small town, its light pollution does not over power the stars. Here is another photo, taken from virtually the location. It was taken with a fisheye lens and captured in May, when the Milky Way is higher in the sky, and the earth is at a different seasonal orbit and angle:

A similar photo, taken in late Spring (May) with a fisheye lens ~ © Royce Bair
 By August, the Milky Way will be in a near vertical position, and further to the right (south). About one-half of the central bulge will also have disappeared below the horizon.

Royce Bair is the editor of this blog and the photographer of the above images. Here is my gallery of NightScape images. My schedule of workshops, tutorials, and other events is available here.

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