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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Milky Way Moonset

By Phil Plait

Michael Shainblum is a photographer whose favorite target is the Milky Way (though he took one of the most amazing photos of 2014, lightning hitting the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world).

He sent me a note recently that he caught an unusual scene in Big Sur, California, and, well, take a look:

How cool is that? The Milky Way is almost exactly vertical, plunging down into the Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole Rock, a natural arch carved by erosion. But what’s that glow in the hole? That’s the crescent Moon, setting into the horizon but blocked by the rock itself. The Moon’s path across the sky against the background stars passes fairly close to the center of our spiral galaxy, which we see edge-on because we’re inside it.

This shot is a mosaic of five panels, going from nearly to the zenith down to the rocks at the foot of the tripod supporting the camera. I suspect the subtle illumination of the arch is from the rocks, water, and beach that were lit by the Moon; their back-reflection would then light up the side of the arch facing the camera.

I’ve seen a lot of photos of the Milky Way on the sky, so sometimes you really need to pick your foreground—and the timing—just right to get a photo that really stands out.

You can see more of Shainbum's work on his Facebook page, too.

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