Summer Milky Way above Yavapai Point Trail in Grand Canyon. Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com.Nothing chock-full of scientific facts this week, but plenty of beauty. Whilst I was on vacation, I came across the photography of Wally Pacholka in various visitors' centers. What's remarkable about his photography is that it isn't contrived:
Pacholka said he employs simple techniques and does nothing extraordinary to get his shots. He uses a standard 50mm lens mounted on a tripod, and points a small flashlight on nearby desirable rocks and other land features he wants to stand out in the photo.Well, if the average person was willing to hike remote trails in the dark and had an eye for the right moment, I suppose. And believe me when I say that hiking around Sunset Crater even in broad daylight is a perilous proposition. Jagged lava flows, slippery cinders, unexpected Ponderosa pine roots - the average person's more likely to end up with a broken neck than a spectacular photo.
He allowed that his digital camera has a light-gathering power that is in some instances more than 50,000 times greater than a typical daylight camera setting. Pacholka runs his exposures anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. But he doesn't consider himself a guru.
"This is something the average person could do, absolutely," he said.
Sunset Crater Volcano - Milky Way & Jupiter. Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com.
Images like these remind us just how gorgeous our universe is. We're damned lucky to live on a planet where such vistas paint the night sky. And with a little wisdom in our lighting choices, we can protect those skies, allowing ordinary people to point an ordinary digital camera and capture some really astounding astronomy.
Gemini Twins - Orion - Sirius - Meteor over Windows Area. Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com.
Both astronomy and photography take us to other worlds - one a little more literally than the other. I think this picture captures the other-worldly quality perfectly. Little hard to believe this was taken at the Valley of Fire on Earth, isn't it?
Mars at Closest Point. Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com.
And there are few things as other-worldly as a comet soaring over Joshua trees, which look a little alien to begin with:
Comet Hale Bopp over Joshua Tree. Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com.
Wally's work gave me a new appreciation for my home state, where cosmos and continent always seemed close enough to touch each other. The first two photos in this post will be gracing my home just as soon as I've identified a suitable wall. Next time you're in a national park, have a look inside the visitor's center - his work may be there, and you can take a little something special home with you. If you love sensational science, here's a photographer who captures its essence perfectly.