Milky Way Panorama over Goblin Valley
Milky Way Panorama over Goblin Valley, Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
In June 2015, the National Park Service’s Night Sky team visited Goblin Valley State Park and determined that it is one of the darkest places on Earth. It’s a great place for star-gazing at any time of year, but most spectacular in the spring. During clear, moonless nights in April, May, and June, in the wee hours of the morning, the Milky Way forms a magnificent arch over the strange hoodoos filling Goblin Valley. In April 2017, I planned a trip to Goblin Valley specifically to shoot images of the Milky Way. I arrived in mid-afternoon, which gave me time to search for a place where I could make the shot I had in mind. An Android and iPhone app called Sun Surveyor gave me information on the azimuth (compass bearing) and altitude (degrees above a level horizon) of the galactic center, the most photogenic part of the Milky Way. I knew that I wanted to start shooting when the galactic center had an altitude of 10 degrees, which would put the spectacular gas and dust clouds surrounding the galactic center above the band of bright sky that is always just above the horizon. Sun Surveyor also gave me the azimuth and altitude of the highest point of the Milky Way arch, which enabled me to calculate roughly where the left end of the arch would fall. Armed with that information and a compass, I wandered through the goblin forest, looking for a place where I could position the galactic center in between two appealing hoodoos, with the remainder of the arch arcing high above more sandstone gnomes. Once I settled on the best location and marked it with a GPS waypoint so I could find it again in the dark, I went back to my campsite, napped for a few hours, then returned at 2 a.m. that night to start shooting the image you see here.