Friday, March 6, 2020

North Coast Night Lights: Lone Oak and Country Road

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2020 at 1:17 PM

click to enlarge A moonlit oak tree watches the passage of the stars on their nightly journey across the sky near a country road in Humboldt County, California. March 2019. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • A moonlit oak tree watches the passage of the stars on their nightly journey across the sky near a country road in Humboldt County, California. March 2019.

In the still of the night, on a ridge top beside a quiet country road, an old oak tree enjoys a long view of valleys and sky. What changes it must have seen as the years turned and the seasons slipped by, day by day and night by night.

Most of us will see the sun cross the sky throughout nearly every day. We know that the stars will also cross at night, but not many of us note their passage through the dark from dusk to dawn. How many nights has the old oak watched as the stars made their slow traverse across the sky? It has seen all the patterns made as the sun, moon, planets and stars rise and set.

Do the stars rise in the east and set in the west as the sun and moon do? The short answer is not exactly, almost oddly enough. As Earth revolves, most of the stars rise and set, but the stars to the north and south arc around the northern and southern axes of our rotation. If we looked out into space perpendicularly to our axis of rotation, the stars we would see would rise in the east and set in the west. The further north or south one looks, the tighter is the arc of the stars.

click to enlarge A moonlit oak tree watches the passage of the stars on their nightly journey across the sky near a country road in Humboldt County, California. March 2019. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • A moonlit oak tree watches the passage of the stars on their nightly journey across the sky near a country road in Humboldt County, California. March 2019.


Where we are in the northern hemisphere, we have a view of the northern polar axis, which conveniently sits on a bright star we’ve named Polaris, the North Star. The stars nearest Polaris will travel in a tight circle around it as Earth rotates, never rising or setting at a horizon. The farther out from Polaris the stars are, the wider their circles. Far enough from Polaris the stars’ larger paths take them from one horizon to the other; these stars rise and set. If we were on the equator, the stars due east would rise vertically, and set due west. From our latitude as one’s gaze moves south the apparent motion of the stars follows an arc above the southern horizon; the center of that arc is the southern axis, which we can’t see because it is above the south pole beyond the horizon.

click to enlarge DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
The photograph of the oak tree I’m sharing here covers a lot of sky in its wide field of view. The stars near the bottom of the image are in the south, arcing across the sky as they travel around the southern axis below the horizon. The stars at the top of the photograph are traveling in a wide circle around the northern axis, which is out of view above and to the left. The area between the southern arcs and the northern arcs is the celestial equator. Because we are north of Earth’s equator, the celestial equator is in the southern half of the sky; were we on the equator, it would extend from east to west directly overhead.

To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or purchase a print, visit and contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx.

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About The Author

David Wilson

David Wilson

Bio:
David Wilson is a Humboldt-grown photographer. His longtime love is creating nighttime images and he enjoys finding and using unique light. David received his Art degree with an emphasis in photography from Humboldt State University. He currently teaches Photoshop in the Digital Media Department at College of... more

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