Before moving to Shetland from Sheffield it virtually impossible to see the Milky Way due to Light Pollution. From the darkest spot in the Derwent Valley it was just visible.
In Shetland it is easier to get away from the light pollution and when there is a new moon the Milky way is absolutely spectacular.
Earth sits approx. 2/3rds from the centre on the outer edge of the spiral arm. Because the galaxy is essentially disc shaped, there are more stars in our line of sight as we look along the plane of the galaxy than there are when we look above or below the plane
A long exposure reveals the dense star clouds towards the centre. The central region is dominated by a dense hub of old red and yellow stars while the outer edge has a mix of stars.
Milky Way at St Ninian's
The density of stars is far greater near the galactic core , (the lighter parts near the bottom ) Its higher star density is why the galactic core appears so bright and why the regions further away from it appear progressively dimmer.
I used a Samyang 24mm lens and a Sony A7s in these photos, most at ISO 4000 at f/2
Still plenty to see in the Shetland Night sky even if the Aurora is not visible
Milky Way at Scatness
The galactic core is only visible in Shetland late August , September & early October especially when there is a new moon. This is the prime area for photography.
Capturing the correct colours is a different matter. It is generally accepted that the core band of the Milky Way is a whitish cream colour, not the vivid purples, blues or greens that appear in some photos, but that's the photographer choice when processing.
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Well just goes to show that even though the Aurora Forecast was for a KP2 it turned out to be a great night.
I had planned to go out anyway down to Scatness and arrived just before dark. The stars just appeared as i started to get set up. I would have preferred some moonlight to light up some rocks but it was totally dark as the cloud started to disappear, just as forecast for once. The Moon set just before dark but would have only been at 6%
I wanted to photograph a couple of stone circle type constructions, although not true stone circles as they appear to lack height. It was more difficult than expected finding these in the dark but I eventually managed it.
I had been facing south up to that point but turned to photograph the circles and I could see the glow of the Aurora expanding, even visible to the naked eye over the light pollution of Sumburgh airport.
I incorporated the aurora in the photos although the glow from the airport was very bright.
Moving back down the hill towards the loch I stopped at the edge to get a few photos as the reflections looked good with the aircraft warning light glowing red on Fitful head.
I stopped at Old Scatness where a wooden visitor centre blocked out some light pollution from Sumburgh Airport. By this time the aurora had grown in brightness and was in full flow with lots of colour visible to the naked eye, lots of pillars reaching high.
Returning home it became clear that it was still active at 10.30 and with clear skies someone might have a good photo opportunity. Check Shetland Aurora Hunter several people had already displayed photos.
Looking at the stats especially the slackpot it looks like I caught the best of the display between 9- 10.30 pm
How wrong can you be, the weather forecasts all indicated a cloudy night, yet in reality it turned out to be a virtually a clear night. This was in the south mainland while the north mainland, Yell and Unst suffered with thick cloud and drizzle.
We headed over to the west side as it became dark just as the Aurora stats started to become better, rising wind speeds and density with the BZ on the down.
The moon had also set earlier in the night so it was very dark just the right condition to see the many millions of stars.
As well as the Milky way green airglow could be seen , something that confuses people as sometimes they think it could be the Aurora, but this was facing south not north.
However looking north the Aurora was bright and around 10.15 it became slightly more active with green pillars moving across the green band. This was only a KP3 but being so far north it was a good show.
Around 10.45 the cloud started to arrive so we headed home well pleased.
With now well over 1,000 members Shetland Aurora Hunter has grown well since I started the group back in December 2016, just send me a request to join.
I had one of my Aurora photos from the 8 September published in the Shetland Times last week. It was rather a disappointing quality, but this wasn't unexpected as it is always a difficult subject to reproduce.
Recently I have had a couple of Canvas prints done and they have come out well. The Sony A7s only has 12 mp but they managed to produce good prints at 30x20 inches. Metallic paper and Acrylic are other good options.
I have had numerous questions about processing, some don't like any type of enhancement except sharpening. A lot of Aurora photos for me are too dark so it is important to make sure that the histogram is about 1/4 way from the left, it is worth putting the ISO up to gain a lighter photo which usually shows less noise- noise lives in dark places.