Far Away in the Milky Way, and Close to Home

Say Hey to the Milky Way

The part of the Milky Way that we can see is very far away, and many of us have been staying close to home these days.

A look at the Milky Way. This is no. 41 in the 50with50 series

Say hello to the Milky Way, as seen in the nighttime sky from our front yard on a summer evening for an entry in the 50with50 series.

Of course, you probably know that the Milky Way is the name of the galaxy that houses our solar system. So what we see here is just a portion of the Milky Way, because we are sitting in it. Or standing, or lying down, or jogging, or whatever else you might be doing while you are reading this. Hopefully not driving, because that would not be safe. In a way, saying we are looking at the Milky Way is like saying we are looking at a car when we are riding in the car. We can see the interior, but we can’t get a view of the whole thing.

What you can see here is just a small portion of what you can see in the sky at night, too, due to the narrow view of the 50mm lens (more about that later on in this post). So this is just a piece of the Milky Way, which makes me think of a bite off of a candy bar, or one of those little “fun size” things that are not that fun at all because they should be bigger. But if you were wondering, the galaxy was named after the candy bar and not the other way around.

How Far?

Scientists are somehow able to estimate that the distance from our sun to the center of the Milky Way is around 27,000 light years. That’s a seriously long way. That would mean that light leaving a star at the center of the Milky Way and traveling at the speed of light would take 27,000 years to get here. That’s like a gazillion billion trillion miles, or maybe even longer. In other words, the light from the stars in that photo up above left a long, long, long time ago and is just now getting here. That’s pretty amazing to me.

That makes my 45 minute drive to town seem like nothing at all. Can you imagine traveling 27,000 light years? How many bathroom stops would that take? How many “Are we there yet” questions would there be? At least if you are traveling at the speed of light, which is the speed limit of everything, then you can’t be pulled over for speeding, right?

When I try to think in terms of that size, it boggles my mind. I can just barely grasp the concept of it, sort of, but it is really beyond my comprehension. I am glad that there are those who know to think in those terms and take measurements to estimate things such as the size of our galaxy, but I don’t think I want to do that for a living. Or even for a hobby. I am much more of a simple guy than that.

My world (universe, galaxy, sphere, whatever) seems to have gotten smaller thanks to COVID-19. I don’t go as many places as I did. When I do go places, they are not as far away as before and I do not stay there as long as before. While home has always been the geographical center of everything I do, the average radius of travel from that center has shrunk considerably. I am not really complaining overall, because I do like it here and feel safe and comfortable here. Yes, a scheduled trip to New York City back in the spring would have been fun, I’m sure, but things are good here at home, too.

Fortunately, we do have the internet to help us stay in contact with the world these days, even if many of us are choosing to travel less or not at all right now. Can you just imagine how it would be if all of this had happened before the internet? The world definitely would have seemed like a small place!

Whether you are still going to far away places or staying at home, I hope you are healthy and safe!

Bible Verse

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. - Isaiah 40:26

About the Photo

As the astronomy photos and the 50with50 series both continue, this was another 50mm prime lens experiment. This photo was actually taken on the same night as the night view of our house. I even used most of the same camera settings (8 second exposure, f/1.8) as that previous photo, but I changed to ISO 400 instead of ISO 640. And I used some different processing techniques in Aurora HDR gave this one a slightly different look.

Changing to ISO 400 made the sky look a little darker, as the lower ISO settings do not register as much light as a higher setting would. I also decreased the brightness somewhat here so that the sky would be more black instead of blue as it was in the house photo. I also increased the color saturation slightly to bring out some of the fantastic colors that are visible. It is interesting how when you look at the night sky with your eyes, you mainly see black (or maybe a really, really deep blue) and white stars. But with a long exposure, more of those colors start to show up, which is pretty cool. It is interesting to see what we can’t see on our own sometimes.

And if you are wondering, that dark area in the lower right corner is one of our trees that managed to get into the frame. I think the tree was jealous of all of these nighttime star photos and was just trying to lean in and wave to say hello. I suppose I could have cropped it out, but I chose to let it have its moment in the sun, er, stars.

Far Away in the Milky Way, and Close to Home

Photo: A single Raw exposure, processed in Aurora HDR. Read more about photography tips, photo software, camera gear, and more at Steve’s Photography Tips.
Camera: Sony Alpha A7 II
Lens: SonyFE 50mm f/1.8
Date: August 6, 2020
Location: Home, WillistonTennessee

The part of the Milky Way that we can see is very far away, and many of us have been staying close to home these days.