No more magical feeling exists than gazing up at a starry sky. Through astrophotography, I aim to not only capture this feeling, but also probe the depths of the cosmos with nothing more than an equatorially-mounted dSLR camera with a stock lens.
The submitted astrophotograph of the Milky Way, taken on July 29, 2014, in Lake County, California, reveals a great amount about our galactic home. The image stretches from Sagittarius to Cygnus, two of the more notable summer constellations, and stares into the disk of the Milky Way’s spiral arms. These arms extend out from the galactic core, and are home to many deep sky objects, not to mention millions of stars. I have identified well over 50 of these objects in this image, including open and globular star clusters, emission nebulae, reflection nebulae, and dark nebulae. The scientific principles that I am able to observe first-hand through this image are virtually endless. This photograph shows that globular clusters tend to contain older yellower stars, while open clusters tend to contain younger bluer stars; It also shows that while the galactic disk is home to many stars, there is gas and dust as well (evidenced by the darker rift in the middle of the starry band). In fact, if that gas is ionized by a star, the photograph tells us which gas is present based on the color of light it emits. For example, from the Lagoon Nebula’s pinkish red color (which can be seen on the right edge of the image), I can infer that it contains mostly Hydrogen.
Another scientific principle exists in creating this image. In order to reveal the faintest of cosmic structures, long exposures are needed. However, the Earth is rotating, which causes the stars to streak and blur the image. The solution to this problem is an equatorial mount, which tracks the motion of the stars. By precisely aligning my mount, and experimenting to find the proper photographical settings, I captured objects 1,000,000 times less luminous than anything visible to the naked eye.
In addition to providing an aesthetically pleasing photograph, my goal in capturing this image was to provide a sense of comfort in the cosmos, as well as capture the magical feeling of being outside under a starlit sky. Instead of pointing my camera deep into intergalactic space to capture galaxies millions of lightyears away, I chose to photograph our galactic neighborhood. Many people look up in the night sky and feel insignificant. I wanted to show the exact opposite by providing a look into our region of the cosmos. When I look into this image, I don’t think about floating on a rock endlessly through space. Instead, I think of how amazing it is to live in a corner of the universe full of cosmic activity, purpose, and maybe even extraterrestrial life. I think of home.