This is the time of year to enjoy the most spectacular feature in our night sky. The Milky Way. From the moment its truly dark until the end of darkness the next morning the Milky Way is on display all night long. Saturday night I was out in the Flint Hills to soak in the starlight of this wonder.
For awhile the night sky was really good but as the night went on upper level moisture moved across the area. How ironic given the area, heck most of Kansas, is in extreme drought. What was a bit surprising was the strength, the intensity of the air glow that night. Clearly visible as the green color in the photo below (click image for larger version):
This single 40 second photograph using a Canon 5DMII (ISO 3200) with a 14mm Samyang @ f2.8 was taken just before midnight and is looking south-east. Yes the image is very noisy, temperature was in the mid 80s. Running the camera continuously really heated it up. The high that Saturday was over 100 degrees.
Along the lower right side of the picture the string of red dots are the blinking warning lights from the Beaumont wind farm some 30 miles to the south. Most of the white light to the left of the wind farm is from Eureka, KS, which is closer, about 16 miles away. From the right spot you can see a long, long way out here. All the way to the center of our galaxy!
Last night I watched the film “A City Dark” on my localPBS station. An examination of our loss of the night sky. I’m drawn to this subject like a moth to light. How to present it? How to educate others about it? A couple minutes into the show I was hooked. Professor Robin’s comment, “American’s are not known for their knowledge”, brought a hearty laugh. Sadly its true, especially when it comes to the night sky. I found the scenes of using a planisphere, a type of star chart, in the heart of New York city weirdly depressing. How could those people possible appreciate the night sky when they can’t see but a few stars?
The show was put together with a combination of simple visual effects and time lapse photography. The author did a good job touching on many issues around light pollution. Trying to explore the question “What does it mean when we lose the night sky?”. One can present any number of valid reasons why this is bad, be it birds dying or baby turtles confused due to glaring light. The tough part isexplainingthebeautyand wonder of the night sky. Why one would even bother to see it, isn’t it just dark? No picture, or description can ever substitute for seeing the Milky Way stretching over ones head on a clear, moonless summer night.
When the show ended I so wanted to be in the Flint Hills, seeing themagnificenceof the Milky Wayfar from the city lights. Only then can one understand what its like to really see the night sky. And what we’re slowlylosing.