Getting the best view of the Milky Way

Posted: August 16, 2014 in Uncategorized, Writing/Rambling
Tags: , , ,

From a few places on Earth where the atmosphere is just right you might see the Milky Way and some of the local group galaxies – including the Large and Small Megallenic Clouds.

This panorama shot by Amit Kamble is one of my new favorites. LMC and SMC (bottom & top, left), and our milky way galaxy with its shiny center.


Photo / Amit Kamble – Night Sky Above the Māori site Opotaka, New Zealand

The arms of the galaxy encircle us at an incredibly far distance. It’s impossible to fully behold it all at once, and to get a perfect photo of it from Earth or anywhere.

Some other panorama shots flatten the galaxy arm to a straight line; but then the ground is not straight. From Earth we only see about 180° of the arm; so neither panorama is any “more correct” of a way to do it, I’d say.

As a non-expert in astrophotography I just know you need to capture a lot of the light coming from the stars, holding the shot for a long time. In the shot above, Amit used a Canon 6D, 20 seconds, ISO 6400, f2.8, and a Samyang 24mm lens. And who hasn’t checked out the images Hubble makes when it holds the shot for days?

Astronomers have noted in many different ways: nothing can really match or recreate the experience of seeing it in space. The milky way stretches entirely around us; we are in one of the arms. Most of the individual stars in our night sky is the mass of ‘our arm’. Our nearest star Alpha Centauri is actually three stars: Alpha Centauri A & B and Proxima Centauri. Even though we might never see many of the individual stars directly, we can capture the light for extended periods to spot more detail, and discern individual stars from star systems and foreground stars.

Individual stars from the nearby galaxies and dwarf galaxies are mostly not visible; our foreground stars might sometimes appear to be in them. You mostly see the other satellite galaxies as glowing clouds. LMC and SMC seen from Earth are both larger than the moon’s diameter. You can spot a few “stars” in them that are clusters of stars shining bright enough to take shape. Being in space, looking at everything directly, it’s perhaps not as colorful as the space images; but you would see more individual stars, more detail/sharper, and more of the galaxy stretching around you. Photography can only begin to capture the look (and feeling) of being surrounded by space, with a panorama effect/splice. With some of these new virtual reality goggles (which I hope to get one day) and a program like Celestia (see my video below =), we can begin to get a more personal idea of our real scale and perspective.


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