Lighthouses and Night Light at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

photo of the week for Tuesday, 2009, December 15
Photographer: Mark Weller, John Rummel, Ian Weller

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:

On the Web:


Very cool, Kurt. I didn't know you were a member of the Friends of the Apostle Islands! Or at least get their newsletter!

Mark and John and Ian did an incredible job with this logistically-challenging photo and have done an even more remarkable job raising funds for the Friends with it. We're hoping they can make it into a series, with an amazing night sky or Milky Way photo at each of the park's 8 lighthouses, perhaps one per year.

Print #1 was purchased by Congressman Dave Obey and presented as a gift to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar when they both visited the park in August 2009. That print now hangs in the Secretary's suite in the Department of the Interior.

Bob Krumenaker
Superintendent, Apostle Islands NL


I am very happy to see the value of a dark and starry night promoted by the NPS and the Friends at Apostle Islands. Units of the national park system located away from urban lights offer the public an outstanding opportunity to experience a near pristine night sky. This specific photo reveals more stars than visibile to the naked eye, possibly more than can be observed using binoculars or a small telescope.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Owen, you're the expert, so maybe you can tell me. Aren't most/all of those really distant, very faint objects you've mentioned galaxies, nebulas, supernovas, and that sort of thing rather than individual stars?

Reply @Bob Janiskee:

The photo features the Milky Way, what most of us know as the faint band of light that stretches across the sky during the summer or winter months. The milky way is our home galaxy. The faint light is the light of very distant - and numerous - stars making up the nearer spiral arm of our galaxy. The individual stars are too far away and too faint to be individually visible, but their combined light glows as the path of the milky way. There are, certainly, nebula and star clusters in that band too, but the majority of the light is simple starlight, from the stars in our own galaxy.

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

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

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 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)

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.


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!

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