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Milky Way and aurora from Mount Rainier National Park

The night sky has countless gems to reveal, and when multiple gems appear at the same time I believe it makes for a very impactful and emotional image. On the night of June 22nd, 2015 a large solar storm was wreaking havoc on much of the northern United States. Here is a panorama from Reflection Lake location near Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park composed of over 15 frames at ISO 1600 using 90 second exposures with my D800 and 14-24mm lens at F/2.8 and 14mm on a tracking mount. This image captures pink aurora, green air glow, our Milky Way galaxy, and light pollution on the horizon at the far end of the lake.

Hours prior to capturing this a gentleman from Germany who attended our night astronomy program asked me for advice on how to take night photos. I showed him a few techniques and we noticed that his camera picked up some beautifully pink aurora from over Mount Rainier.

I packed up my gear after the astronomy program and headed down to the lake where I wanted to capture some gems. This location was wonderful as it contained a view of Mount Rainier, water for star reflections, and a relatively open view of the southern portion of our Milky Way core. I setup my D750 along the path to capture a timelapse video while I worked on the panorama. Here is a star-trails photo I made with the 200 some odd frames of the timelapse video with the D750.

This night was incredibly emotional to me because it was the first time in my life I visibly witnessed an aurora. Although I have captured the aurora in camera before, not ever have I witnessed it with my unaided eye. Cameras are so much more sensitive to color and light at night that aurora can be seen in a photograph, yet invisible to the human yet. The aurora appeared to be black and white in color and as if someone was shining a spot light into the air to the right side of Mt. Rainier (see the columns in the photo). These black and white columns over the course of nearly 5-10 minutes slowly faded as they danced on the horizon. Emotional nights witnessing natural phenomena like these keep me coming back to the night sky, they keep me striving to improve my work, and they keep inspiring me to share my love for connecting with the night sky. To me the night sky is home. The night sky is where my deceased loved ones are and are sharing their energy by sending me natural phenomena to photograph. The experience of feeling comforted and in awe is how I felt at the end of this night. Even if I might not understand fully what is out there in the night sky, I am incredibly humbled knowing that I am just a mere speck in a sea of stars and galaxies and will eventually return home.

Was there a time in your life where you had an emotional connection to the night sky? If so, please feel free to share in the comments section below!


~Matt

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