Nick Risinger traveled around the Western United States and to South Africa, took 37,440 exposures, and created a 5,000 megapixel view of the Milky Way. The final product, on display at Photopic Sky Survey, is an interactive view of the night sky. You can scan across a 360-degree image, and select a toggle that will show constellations, planet, and other features. These shots remind me of how the night sky looks from Lake Superior's Apostle Islands. I can't wait to go back and sail there again this summer!
Risinger writes of his experience:
Travel was necessary as capturing the full sphere of the night sky brought with it certain limitations. What might be seen in the northern hemisphere isn't always visible from the south and, likewise with the seasons, what may be overhead in the summer is below the horizon in the winter. Complicated by weather and moon cycles, this made for some narrow windows of opportunity which we chased through the remote areas of Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, California and Oregon.
As light pollution continues to spread in America, these western states contain some of the last havens of true darkness, a shade few of us are any longer familiar with in which the Milky Way alone can cast a soft shadow. This darkness was crucial because even the slightest amount could overpower faint starlight and haze the exposures. As anyone who has tried to capture night scenes with their camera would know, stars present a formidable challenge. They don't stay still and their light is very weak, requiring long exposures and a tripod mount that rotates in sync with Earth's spin. I also wanted to capture the most amount of detail, one that pushed the limits of practicality without testing my sanity, so I decided each piece of the puzzle would be just 12 degrees wide. This was about the width of a palm at arm's length captured by not just one, but six air-cooled cameras each fitted with their own lenses and filters.
It was clear that such a survey would be quite difficult visually hopping from one area of the sky to the next--not to mention possible lapses in coverage--so this called for a more systematic approach. I divided the sky into 624 uniformly spaced areas and entered their coordinates into the computer which gave me assurance that I was on target and would finish without any gaps. Each frame received a total of 60 exposures: 4 short, 4 medium, and 4 long shots for each camera which would help to reduce the amount of noise, overhead satellite trails and other unwanted artifacts.
And so it was with this blueprint that I worked my way through the sky, frame by frame, night after night. The click-clack of the shutters opening and closing became a staccato soundtrack for the many nights spent under the stars. Occasionally, the routine would be pierced by a bright meteor or the cry of a jackal, each compelling a feeling of eerie beauty that seemed to hang in the air. It was an experience that will stay with me a lifetime.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.