The stars arc across the sky in their nightly parade in this view looking south from Boat Launch Beach, or Indian Beach, beneath the town of Trinidad, California. The star trails you see are the result of the stars’ motion across the sky during this several-minute exposure of the camera. In summer months the sky in this view would contain the core of our galaxy, the visually richest portion of the Milky Way. January, 2019.
We live in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s a flattened pinwheel shape, and our solar system is out on one of the arms. Our galaxy gets its name from the bright band of stars called the Milky Way, which we can see stretching across the night sky. The band is an edge-on view of our galaxy from within the galaxy; it is what we see as we look through the thick part of the pinwheel comprising all of the stars, nebulae and everything else that lie between us and the other side of the galaxy. When one looks into the night sky to either side of the Milky Way’s band, we are looking outward from the galaxy’s plane. Here there are fewer stars, and beyond them lies the great space between galaxies.
The brightest, most detailed area of the Milky Way is the galactic core. We can’t always see the core because as Earth moves around our sun in its year-long trek, each night of the year our dark side faces a slightly different view of the sky. As a result, some times of the year the core of Milky Way is not in view at night. During winter in the northern hemisphere, Earth’s night side faces the fainter stretches of the Milky Way. As we leave winter and spring approaches, we begin to have a view of the core in the early pre-dawn hours. The Milky Way will rise earlier each morning; toward the end of May the Milky Way’s position in the sky at 1:30 a.m. is similar to the pre-dawn view of late March. In late June, the core will be low on the southeastern horizon when darkness falls, and it will be higher in the sky each night immediately after dark through the summer.
In a few of the images through the year I have labeled celestial points in the sky. While the Milky Way and stars always follow the same paths across our skies through the seasons, the planets move independently against the starry backdrop. They travel in their own orbits around our sun, and because they’re closer to us than the stars are (by a lot), their independent motion relative to us causes them to move across the otherwise fixed star field. It’s the same principal at work as when you look into the distance and sway from side to side: you will see nearer objects appear to move back and forth relative to more distant objects. This year we had Jupiter and Saturn straddling the Milky Way all season; next year they’ll both be close together to the left of the Milky Way. Last year Mars was close to the Milky Way, but nowhere near it this year.
The night sky is fascinating in its variations. Here on the North Coast, we are blessed to live in an area where the skies are dark enough to enjoy its bejeweled wonders, and we are fortunate that it is not yet too crowded with space junk. Please enjoy these image of Night Light from our precious North Coast from the year 2019 just gone by.
To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx .