M24, the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud

One of the most profound things any human being can see is our own Milky Way Galaxy. For the best view you need to be hundreds of miles from any large city, and preferably tens of miles from any small town. Such places are increasingly hard to find, especially in advanced nations like the USA where "progress" includes lighting up the sky and blotting out our view of the grand reality beyond.

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is one such sanctuary of the night sky. During my recent assignment as a Night Sky Volunteer in that park I took advantage of those pristine skies to do some wide-field astrophotography.

This bright patch of the Milky Way is a fortuitous opening in the dark, obscuring clouds of dust surrounding it. It affords us a glimpse into deep, remote parts of our galaxy that we do not normally see. These stars are many thousands of light-years away. Through a telescope from a dark site this star cloud is one of the most fascinating sights in the sky. Many of its stars are arranged in curious loops, lines, and chains that look almost too regular to be artificial. Even better, like everything we see beyond our solar system, these stars have absolutely nothing to do with the human race. It is far and forever beyond any influence from our religions, politics, wars, destruction, or any of our other unfortunate traits. What a relief!

I shot this with my 85mm f/2 lens stopped down to f/4. The individual exposures were 2 minutes at ISO 1600. The pink splotches above the star cloud are the Swan and Eagle nebulae.

Image copyright by Joe Bergeron.