What You Can See When It's Really Dark

October 18, 2016

ZodiacallightChumackHRweb (4)

Photographer: John Chumack
Summary Authors: John Chumack; Jim Foster

Shown above is a wide angle view of the winter Milky Way and zodiacal light as observed from the Oklahoma Panhandle during this year's Okie-Tex Star Party. The shot was snapped about 90 minutes before sunrise. It basically represents what I saw with my naked eye, once my eyes were fully dark-adapted. In a few places around the world the skies are still sufficiently dark so that on clear nights it's possible to see amazing detail. Take a look at the Milky Way (right center) -- it's absolutely stunning here to the unaided eye. Faint features such as the zodiacal light (bottom center), a hard catch in most areas, are easy to see when there's virtually no competing light from towns, villages or even farmsteads. The zodiacal light, sometimes called the false dawn, is the roughly triangular-shaped patch of light that extends up from the horizon along the ecliptic. It's caused by sunlight that's scattered by space ice and dust particles in the zodiacal cloud. Note the Beehive Open Star Cluster buried in the glow of the zodiacal light.

Also prominent on this image is the Constellation of Orion (upper right center). Betelgeuse is the bright reddish-orange object (Orion's right shoulder), which makes up one corner of the Winter Triangle, along with brilliant Sirius, just above the horizon at right, and Procyon, midway between the Beehive Cluster and Sirius. Photo taken on September 28, 2016.

Photo Details: Canon 6D DSLR camera; 24mm lens; F4; ISO 2000; 2-minute exposure on Star Adventurer Camera Tracking Mount. Software: Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Windows).