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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Astrophoto: Bungling the Milky Way

By Phil Plait

Mike Salway is an Australian photographer with a passion for the night sky. Iâve featured his beautiful photos on the blog before (like here and here); he has an excellent eye for scenery, setup, and post-processing to maximize the artistry and information in a photograph.

Heâs writing a series of articles he calls âNightscape Photography 101,â giving instructions for how to take beautiful shots of the heavens above. I read through them, and if you have some experience taking pictures and using basic software, theyâre easy to follow and should produce great results.

Itâs hard to argue when you see a phenomenal shot like this, showing the Milky Way over the Bungle Bungle Range in Australia:

Yegads. I had to crop and shrink it to fit it here, so you really want to click to embiggen it. The full-size picture is gorgeous. And he tells you just how he made it, too.

I love geology, and as mesmerizing as the galaxy is arching over the ground in that picture, my eyes were drawn to the rock formations. I could tell right away in general what I was seeing: ancient sedimentary layers of a sea bed laid down long ago, then later eroded away by wind and water. Iâve seen similar formations (though not as spectacular) in Colorado and Wyoming. The Bungle Bungle Range is more than 300 million years old.

Of course, the galaxy stretched out above it is about 10 billion years old, to give you a sense of scale. When it comes to age, thereâs old, and then thereâs old.

A last note of irony: I donât know if the word is used this way in Oz, but âbungleâ in America means to make a mistake due to incompetence, to really screw something up. Clearly, thatâs not the case here! Through careful planning, execution, and follow-up, Salway has created a magical portrait of our planet and galaxy. If you follow his instructions, you can, too.

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