Bad Astronomy

Astrophoto: Bungling the Milky Way

Mike Salway is an Australian photographer with a passion for the night sky. I’ve featured his beautiful photos on the blog before (like here and here); he has an excellent eye for scenery, setup, and post-processing to maximize the artistry and information in a photograph.

He’s writing a series of articles he calls “Nightscape Photography 101,” giving instructions for how to take beautiful shots of the heavens above. I read through them, and if you have some experience taking pictures and using basic software, they’re easy to follow and should produce great results.

It’s hard to argue when you see a phenomenal shot like this, showing the Milky Way over the Bungle Bungle Range in Australia:

Mike Salway photo of the Milky way over the Bungle Bungles
Ancient rocks, and ancienter galaxy. Click to galactinate.

Photo by Mike Salway, used by permission

Yegads. I had to crop and shrink it to fit it here, so you really want to click to embiggen it. The full-size picture is gorgeous. And he tells you just how he made it, too.

A single Bungle Bungle.

Photo by Mike Salway, used by permission.

I love geology, and as mesmerizing as the galaxy is arching over the ground in that picture, my eyes were drawn to the rock formations. I could tell right away in general what I was seeing: ancient sedimentary layers of a sea bed laid down long ago, then later eroded away by wind and water. I’ve seen similar formations (though not as spectacular) in Colorado and Wyoming. The Bungle Bungle Range is more than 300 million years old.

Of course, the galaxy stretched out above it is about 10 billion years old, to give you a sense of scale. When it comes to age, there’s old, and then there’s old.

A last note of irony: I don’t know if the word is used this way in Oz, but “bungle” in America means to make a mistake due to incompetence, to really screw something up. Clearly, that’s not the case here! Through careful planning, execution, and follow-up, Salway has created a magical portrait of our planet and galaxy. If you follow his instructions, you can, too.