It looks like a daytime picture but there was only the full moon. With enough exposure, what looks like black sky to me becomes sky blue to the film. The dreamy quality is made by the passage of light clouds blowing through during the exposure, and by the cumulative misty effect of waves breaking on the shore. A rogue wave climbs far up the beach and glistens in the moonlight for a moment before sinking back into the sand. A close look will find masts waving as their moored sailboats maneuver against the wind.
The constellation Orion is hiding in the clouds. The three belt stars make a characteristic cat scratch during the time exposure. To the left, undimmed by faint clouds is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
This is a favorite target for astrophotographers. It’s a famous image, but quite challenging to capture, partly because it is only visible during the winter months when Orion the Hunter is up. The weather conditions will always be cold, at least in the northern latitudes, and so winter gear is required.
It is not easy to actually see this target. The nearby bright star, zeta Orionis, is a convenient marker, but its glare easily washes out the faint glow of the Horsehead and another nearby object just below zeta, the “Flame Nebula”.
On most winter nights, the distinctive constellation of Orion the Hunter is plainly visible in the southern sky. Orion sports a “belt” from which hangs a three-star “sword”. The Orion Nebula is the smudge of the middle star in Orion’s sword. A closer look at it reveals that it is not a star at all, but a group of stars shrouded in a cloud of dust and glowing gas. This is a stellar nursery where new stars are being formed. As the gas coalesces, it is energized and emits a characteristic red glow, not bright enough to be seen visually, but captured nicely on film.
I made an expedition to northern Arizona in November of
1998. It was partly to find out what is involved in transporting photo and
telescope guiding equipment to other parts of the world. Although cumbersome (I
shipped a 90 lb crate ahead to be available when I arrived), it worked.
On the first night I found a remote site in the high desert.
The map showed what looked like paved roads to a fishing lake. Evidently the
map notations are different in Arizona; at least there were ruts where earlier
vehicles had found their way.
The lake was remarkably calm and I marvelled at the darkness
of the sky as I watched Orion rise in the east. I could hear wildlife including
coyotes, owls, and yes, ducks. But they were far away and the water remained
like a mirror. The sky glow here is not from aurora, but instead from distant
Flagstaff, a city with an ordinance to use sodium vapor street lighting. The
color is strongly yellow, but easily filtered and removed by the astronomical
observatories that are hosted by the town. My film however captures all of it.
Although Orion is spread out into an unrecognizable form, he
can be identified by the bright orange star, Betelgeuse on the left, and bright
blue star Rigel on the right. The triad of belt stars makes a catscratch-like
trail, and you may notice a distinctly red star that is even more obviously red
in its reflection. This is the famous Orion nebula, a glowing region of gas and
dust where new stars are being born.
On this day, I manage to travel to Four Corners, a
geographic location that is only meaningful to cartographers marking the
human-made political bounds of different territories. There is certainly no physical or geographic
rartionale behind it, as the view from the constructed concrete platform
holding the National Geologic Survey brass benchmark is the same in all
I am staying at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta Arizona. It is not your usual traveler’s stopping place that I have become accustomed to in my business travels. It is an attractive contemporary adobe building, tastefully appointed with beautiful Navajo art and artifacts. Gentle native music is piped to the public areas. An interesting Navaho outdoor exhibit is also well presented. The native American flavor is augmented by modern conveniences—full breakfast, wireless internet, pool, patio, and an attractive and comfortable lobby.