The time was 2:51 AM on Feb 2nd at Manasota Beach, Florida. Depending on your point of view that’s either very, very early or very, very late. The reason I was there was to attempt to make a photograph of the Milky Way. Well, more accurately the Galactic Center of the Milky Way. Now the Milky Way is our home galaxy. You can see it everywhere in the night sky when you look up. The center of our home galaxy is even visible to the naked eye. It’s breathtaking to behold as it hovers over your head on the horizon.
However the moon. the sun, light pollution, and weather can obscure this amazing spectacle. Living in the state of Florida makes it challenging to create a photograph of the galactic center. I can find times and dates without a sun or moon, however Florida is has crazy weather and heavy with light pollution. With each passing year it becomes more and more difficult to find a night sky not marred with light pollution. Still with software and some patience I can eventually deal with that problem. It’s the weather that’s provides the most amount of difficulty to work with.
Now I knew the Milky Way was going to hanging low over the horizon from South to East at that time. I was hopping I could dig past the light pollution of Englewood and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. Unfortunately what I couldn’t dig past was the heavy cloud cover. Especially, with those clouds hanging near the horizon. So, the Milky Way was not visible to the naked eye that night. Now I ventured out hoping that clouds would part and I would catch a glimpse. That has happened before. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of those nights.
That brings me to the photo you see before you. The brightest dot in the center of the image is a double star system called Sirius, a.k.a. The Dog Star. It’s 8.6 light years away. That means it took the light 3,141.15 days to travel to be seen in the night sky on Feb 2nd at 2:51 AM at Manasota Beach, give or take. One light year equals roughly 5.88 trillion miles. The Dog Star is one of the brightest stars in the night sky. I was looking at it and I noticed that the light from the star was reflecting off the Gulf of Mexico.
This was light that had traveled 3,141.15 days. Upon reaching Earth it reflected off the water to be seen by me at 2:51 AM on Feb. 2nd. The light stopped traveling when it hit the back of my eye and was recorded on my brain and the camera’s sensor. A 15 second exposure was all it took to gather enough usable light.
I was the only one at the beach at that time. The waves were slapping the shore, almost sounding like twigs snapping. They made me jump every couple of seconds while I was setting up the shot. My eyes were having trouble adjusting to the dark because of the light from the city and occasionally blinding myself with my flash light. When I stared out only into the Gulf my eyes became attuned to the dark.
Now I knew, that stars are very, very, very far way. I’ve taken an astronomy class, looked through telescopes and seen both Cosmos shows. I understand the distance. However, it was there alone in the dark, with only sound of the waves spooking me, when something happened. It was the first time I truly felt that immense distance. During those 15 seconds I could feel the distance. Not based on the knowledge I have, but I could feel it. I’d say it was almost spiritual. I felt so small and so large at the same time.
This is not a pretty picture or a great picture. No awards will be won with this and no one will want it. I wanted to photograph the Milky Way and I failed that night. Instead I have this poor rules of third composition with clouds everywhere. Still, this image has become very significant for me. When I look at it, I’m taken back to that moment of staring into the heavens and I felt them stare back at me.
They say a good photo should make you feel. They never said how many it needed to affect.