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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

A Bridge Across the Sky

By Phil Plait

A couple of months ago I spent a few days in western Colorado, far away from city lights. I was with a group of science enthusiasts for Science Getaways, taking a weeklong vacation chock full o’ science.

That part of the country is blessed with dark skies and fantastic weather, and I took my telescope out every night to view the heavens. But just standing there and looking up was surpassingly moving. The Milky Way loomed large over the land, stretching across the sky, so bright it was a palpable thing.

A half a world away, that feeling was captured perfectly by astrophotographer Amirreza Kamkar, who took this incredible picture in Abyaneh, Iran:

Wow. This shot is a mosaic of seven 20-second exposures, in what must be a phenomenally dark region. I like how Kamkar pointed the camera in such a way that the picture goes horizon to horizon, and the Milky Way is, in Kamkar’s own words, a bridge across the sky.

Our disk galaxy dominates the scene, apparently edge-on since our solar system is embedded in it. Dark dust lanes block light from stars behind them, and a few pinkish nebulae dot the skyscape near the bottom. Stars are being born in those clouds, thousands of them at a time.

Not only that, but a satellite can be seen leaving a dead-straight track on the right, and above it, a bright meteor flashed. At the other end (at the “top,” though it’s really just the other horizon) you can see the fuzzy Andromeda galaxy, and below it the bright reddish star Mirach behind a cloud, which mimics the much more distant and far, far larger galaxy. Mirach is a red giant, a star that may have once been much like the Sun, but is now dying, swelling to huge proportions and becoming a luminous beacon; a last gasp before shrinking and fading away a million years hence. It’s a reminder that even the Sun won’t last forever, but the galaxy itself—with the help of its star-forming nebulae—will live on for eons to come.

This is a clever shot and substantially beautiful. I highly recommend visiting Kamkar’s collection of astrophotographs at The World at Night website; I particularly liked this one. Such photographic talent, and a sense of humor! Wonderful.

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