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Lighthouses and Night Light at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Milky Way over Apostle Islands
Mark Weller, John Rummel, Ian Weller
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We recently told you about a series of posters being produced to promote the dark, starry skies over national parks. As this photo shows, there are some unexpected parks that offer dazzling views of the night skies. This print was produced for Friends of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore as a fund-raiser. Here's the story behind the photo:

This picture was taken early in the morning on June 25th, 2009, of the Outer Island Light Station. A four-minute exposure, this shot was made possible by mounting the camera (a Canon 30D) on top of a telescope with a slow-motion drive, making it possible to cancel the motion of the Earth's rotation. This process allows the camera to capture an incredibly sharp and saturated image of one of the most delightful views of the heavens. A separate four-minute exposure was taken with the telescope drive turned off to capture the Light Station and house.

Conditions must be perfect to achieve such a photograph: crystal clear skies, low humidity, new moon and no airplanes or satellites spoiling the shot. It can only be taken during the summer months when the Milky Way's brightest region is poised above the southern horizon.

The proceeds from the sale of this limited edition print go to the Friends of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, whose mission is to promote an appreciation for and preservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore:

A framed, 26-inch by 21-inch copy of this print can be yours for $530, shipping included. For more information, check out this page.

To further enjoy the night skies over Apostle Islands without leaving home, check out this video:

Bob J.,

John is correct. This digital image is capturing starlight, and from this position, most of the light is from stars inside our own Milky Way, even those pinpoints of light far away from the bright center core (some 30,000 light years away, and mostly obscured by dark matter). There are some bright emission nebula, clouds of gas and dust that emit their own light such as the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae in Sagittarius, but by and far, the bright image of the Milky Way in this photograph is all due to starlight from inside our own galaxy.

Bob K., Let's have an NPS sponsored public star party at Apostle Islands. I'll save up my frequent fliers to come up, or even drive up with my 10" Dobsonian telescope.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830


Three of us worked two nights to make this shot happen. I monitored the camera and telescope drive, Ian used a flashlight to "paint" the light tower and house, and Mark was inside the house with a flashlight. During the 4 minute exposure, we were in touch via walkie-talkie and carefully synchronized the timing and duration of the inside and outside flashlight effects. It was quite a production!

I had the opportunity to meet one of the guys who made this photo at the GMP. He said that the effect in the window was done by someone going up there with a flashlight and shining it around to give the effect that a lighthouse keeper is in.

The light in the lighthouse, on the other hand, is not too bright because (if I recall) the light rotates and so it only comes around every so often and doesn't ruin the photo.

Thanks for the invitation, Bob. I have a golfing buddy who does college football play-by-play broadcasting gigs for ESPN. Maybe I'll ask him for some tips. :o)

John, I look forward to helping make it happen! Owen, maybe you should come out, too, and see the night sky from this part of the world. Kurt and Bob, you guys could come and do play-by-play.

Thanks for the explanation, John. So much to little time....

Bob, you had me at "series." See you at Sand Island next summer!

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