Oh, wow. Look, and ye shall see all the science spread out before thee.
This beautiful nighttime panorama in New Zealand is a composite image of 11 separate 20-second exposures. The digital fusion created a wee bit of wonkiness in the clouds, but otherwise this is a fantastic image where the longer you look, the more you see.
Are you ready to play I-spy, the scientist version?
- Cumulus clouds
- Crepuscular rays
- Excited oxygen atoms
- Rising moon
- Milky Way Galaxy
- Observatory domes
- Small Magellanic Cloud
- Camera tripod
How many did you find? Take all the time you need to gaze at a beautiful photograph of our planet showing off, then read on for more explicit directions for spotting each item on the list.
Starting along the ground, that’s Lake Tekapo, with a tiny almost-village of the same name lighting up the far shore. Moving along the hills to the right are two domes of Mt. John University Observatory. Flipping sides to the far left foreground is a camera tripod taking in the scene.
Just over the horizon right of the tripod is a bright white glow: that’s the rising moon, complete with faint crepuscular rays splaying into the night sky. Above the moon are the puffy cotton-balls of cumulus clouds.
Stars are easy—they’re scattered throughout the image. Stabbing almost vertically from just right of center is the Milky Way, a splash of concentrated stars and dust so often lost to city-dwellers. Above and to the right, almost drown in aurora, is the faint fuzzy patch of the Small Magellanic Cloud.
And finally: the aurora. Caused by highly charged particles colliding with the geomagnetic field, the colours are mostly defined by excited oxygen and nitrogen. In the southern hemisphere, aurora are more often reds and pinks, but the purple tint is less common. The smaller patches of green mark a colour common for northern lights but more unusual for their southern cousins, appearing to nearly rain up from the horizon.
Image credit: NASA