While standing on a  corner in Winslow Arizona and seeing a girl in a flat bed Ford checking you out may be such a fine sight to see, standing under the dark desert sky about 5 miles south of Winslow on a moonless night is several notches up from fine, it is spectacular.

Getting away from the lights where we live in Palm Bay Florida is a bit of a task since the proximity of larger population centers like Orlando and the area Melbourne and Palm Bay take up create a lot of ambient glow in the sky. This glow is the enemy of seeing a sky full of stars on a dark night. Sure, you can see several stars most anywhere on a moonless night, but the Milky Way cloud you see in the picture above is a rarity unless you can get away from the ambient light pollution of cities.

However, Northern Arizona population centers are few and far between and the sky is amazingly dark out here. Winslow AZ is approximately 60 miles from Flagstaff and Flagstaff has special street and parking lot lights that limit the light that shines above them (the light is directed downward only plus they have special bulbs) because of Lowell Observatory. And the closest town in the opposite direction is Holbrook which is approximately 30 miles away, and the nice thing for sky watchers is that there is absolutely nothing in between. This makes for a sky that is exceptionally dark when the moon hasn’t risen yet.

The top picture you see above is on a completely cloudless night. What you are seeing besides the individual stars and what looks like clouds, is the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy that our solar system resides in. It looks like clouds, but it is actually stars so densely packed (to our perspective) that it just looks like clouds.

With the naked eye the Milky Way glow is somewhat less vivid. Because of the way the digital sensor gathers light and color, what you see in the top picture is not quite as vivid with your own two eyes, but you can see it out here unlike anything I have ever seen in Florida. We found a park called Clear Creek about 6 miles outside of Winslow to the south to get away from the immediate lights of this area and it was quite spectacular as I mentioned before.

For those interested in the camera and settings I used, I have a Nikon D3100 and had the standard kit lens set on 18 mm (to avoid streaking from earth rotation). My f-stop was set at F4 and used an ISO of 800 with a 30 second exposure. The white balance was set to cloudy. Obviously a tripod is essential for this long of an exposure. With a little more experimentation and possibly a different location in the desert it wouldn’t be hard to get even more vivid pictures of the Milky Way. The bottom picture has a less visible galactic cloud in it because in the other direction from the top photo, the ranger station where we were had a flood light on and I wasn’t able to get a long enough exposure.

When you visit the desert Southwest make sure you get the chance to see the stars on a cloudless, moonless night because you may have never seen anything like it.

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One Response to “Standing Under A Starry Sky In Winslow Arizona”

  1. Steve Johnson says:

    Awesome…I love Arizona. the desert has it’s own beauty, unlike anything else.

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