This stunning photograph by Mark Gee (full res here), aptly named “Guiding Light to the Stars”, won the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2013 in the category “Earth and Space”.
The caption reads:
A spectacular view of the Milky Way arching over the coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The brightest light in the image is from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. The central patch of light in the sky marks the bulge of stars at the heart of our Galaxy, 26,000 light years away. To the left, the two Magellanic Clouds, small satellite galaxies much further away, appear as faint smudges in the sky.
Yesterday I mentioned poetry as a an example of the link between science & art. Photography is another one. It’s a natural way to bring astronomy and its beautiful objects and phenomena to the public. It’s a fantastic outreach tool in its simplicity, bringing the wonder of the night sky to everyone, no matter their language or origin. The beauty of such images is universal, and the skills of photographers such as Mark bring the night sky and the Universe a little closer to all of us.
Now, they say a picture is a worth a thousand words, and often it’s true, but I feel this amazing photograph becomes even more beautiful when you understand the science of it.
When you realize what you are seeing is our galaxy and the billions of stars it contains, slowly swirling around the bright centre of it you’re looking at thousands of light years away, obscured by giant clouds of dust and gas. And when you understand the Magellanic Clouds are two little galaxies of their own, even further away, orbiting our own much bigger galaxy like satellites because they are bound to us by gravity.
Doesn’t that knowledge make it even more stunning? Understanding the science of something doesn’t take its wonder away, it reinforces it.
Take an audience, and combine this beautiful picture with a thousand words on the science it contains, and you will inspire people. This is outreach. You can even combine it with another form of art, like yesterday’s poem, and you will blow people’s minds! Well, mine was (Seriously, doesn’t it look like the poem and the photo are just perfect together?).
Finally, with that knowledge, from that beach, or anywhere where the sky is dark enough, you can go outside, look up, and enjoy this majestic cosmic-scale ballet unfolding with your very own eyes, creating your own picture…And that is worth a thousand words.
ps: if his name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s behind one of the most beautiful videos of the night sky I have ever come across, shooting a full moon rise in real time. Do watch it.