July 2, 2013

Milky Way and a shooting star

When was the last time you stared up the heavens and actually saw, well, the heavens? If you live in the city, you may not remember the last time you saw the stars. Or maybe never?

Seeing the sky studded with bright stars is a sight to behold, now imagine seeing part of the galaxy we are in. That would be something! It’ll take a few seconds for everything to sink it, but once it does you’ll realize you are part of the grand scheme of things. You’d probably wish for some cosmic event to happen. Oh wait! You are seeing some cosmic event. Some of the stars are millions of light years away - this means you are seeing the light they have emitted several millions of years ago, probably during their creation (or maybe even while they are dying - supernova stage). Don’t worry there’s no fee for imagination.

The biting cold, or whatever inconveniences your current location throws at you, does not matter at all if you are staring at a something this “heavenly”. So at 3AM, even after just a few hours of sleep, our whole camp was awake. The fact some of us who woke up earlier were making such a racket probably helped as well. Soon everybody had their cameras pointed at the sky.

Busy Camp

So how does one increase the chances of coming across a scene like that? First would be location: the father away from urban areas the better. That’ll mean less light pollution - that artificial warm light that makes the sky “glow”. Weather and the current phase of the moon plays a huge part as well. We’d want clear skies and no moon. If the moon is bright you’d have to wait for it to set, which depending on your location and time of the year, may not actually coincide with night time. You may consider luck as an integral part of the equation too, and a friend of mine once said the more he does research, the “luckier” he becomes.

Elevation is also a factor. At high altitude the sky tends to be darker, and the atmosphere clearer (less pollution). But even with all these perfect conditions, nature has a way of raining down on your parade, or in our case rolling in the fog. We only had a less than an hour to enjoy the clear night sky before fog obscured the sky.

Clear Night Sky at Mt. Pulag Camp 2

With today’s digital cameras producing good images even at high ISO (level of sensitivity to light), it has become easier to capture these beautiful night skies. Here are some tips you may find useful: 

- your rig may not autofocus since everything’s dark. Use manual focus and set your lens to focus at infinity. 

- open wide. if your lens is capable of f2.8, use it. 
- don’t go beyond 30-40 seconds for the exposure. Longer than that and you’ll get noticeable star trails. You’ll have to use higher ISO (between 800-1000) in combination with a larger aperture to be able to limit your shutter speed.
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Photos by Allan Barredo unless stated otherwise. No photos or any part of this post may be downloaded and reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the owner. But feel free to share the link using any of the sharing buttons below.
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