Photos by Jane Cappe –
There’s an ancient Native American legend of dubious history about a Great Spirit which allegedly made the world and gathered the morning stars together on the shores of a quiet, silver lake bordered with blue mountains, the most beautiful place on Earth.
Hovering above the quiet waters and lighting the mountain tops with their robes of fire, the stars sang their songs of joy and pledged to gather here every thousand years.
One time when the stars were singing, there came a mighty crashing! A great rock in the mountain wall tore asunder, and through the deep opening the lake waters began to pour out and rush to the sea.
As time passed, the stars looked over the earth for another place to meet. They finally agreed upon a lovely valley through which a winding river ran.
Suddenly the stars realized that this valley had been the bed of their beautiful lake, and the blue mountains around it were the same ones upon which they had cast their robes of light in ages past.
The stars were so joyous they placed the brightest jewels from their crowns in the river where they still lie and sparkle. And ever since that day, the river and its valley have been called “Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars.”
I don’t know about all that, but I ran into a camper the other night who was staying up all night taking photos of the Milky Way galaxy, and she agreed to let us publish them here. Enjoy.
I get a lot of questions about these shots, so here is the information.
I use a program called Stellarium to tell me when the Milky way will appear in night sky on a given date. I know it moves from South to Southwest over the course of the night. In this case, I took pictures from 10 p.m. until just after 4:30 when the sky started to lighten. I drove from Big Meadows, where I started, south to Loft Mountain.
It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, and I was nervous about the bears, so I left my truck running to frighten them. (I didn’t see any bears, but I did see a lot of deer). The two bright stars in some of the pictures (in the picnic area, for example), are Venus (lowest) and Jupiter.
I belong to the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, and serendiptiously ran into a new member looking for a place to set up his telescope that night. As it turns out, he lives 4 miles away from me.
I learn something new each time I shoot pictures — I never get tired of taking shots of the night sky. That particular night I saw the star constellation “Libra” for the first time ever, and now I know why it is portrayed as the zodiac sign.
My shots were taken with a Canon 60Da and a long exposure. Many people want to take these with cell phones. I’m working with my cell phone (galaxy s5 and a $4 application) to see if that can be done. I think it can be done, as many cell phones have excellent cameras. My point is you don’t need a high priced camera and a lens. Many basic DSLRs will work. You need to be able to set an exposure time, and an ISO, on a tripod.
With your eyes, you can’t see quite the detail in these shots the pictures have, but the basic picture is intact. I use Photoshop Elements to adjust the clarity, the exposure, and the contrast to bring out the color and the detail. The camera sees everything –the program just brings out the details. What the eyes can see is the gray band of the Milky way, stretching from the brightest area in the South to the North.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.