Stunning Astrophoto: The Milky Way Over Death Valley

High School Physics teacher and photographer Jeff Moreau took this incredible photo of the Milky Way over Death Valley. Jeff planned his photo on a night where the Moon had already set, arriving in Badwater Basin at Death Valley around 3:30 am.

Regarding his image, Jeff says, “As a high school physics teacher, I love astronomy. I frequently am showing my students current astronomy news and images as there is so much that is so easily fascinating going on out in space.”

The image shown above is comprised of 7 photos, which do an incredible job of covering the extent of the Milky Way. According to Jeff, if he were to do this image again, he would take more images, possibly some shot horizontally, so that there would be a little less visible star trails on the top of the image.

One interesting detail about the image is that Jeff had never been to Death Valley before. Upon entering the park, the temperature (around 3AM), was around 99 degrees fahrenheit. Jeff had no idea of what the landscape looked like. As the Milky Way faded and the first hints of dawn began to emerge Jeff was treated to an incredible scene that he describes over on Google+ at: https://plus.google.com/114435675631396141366/posts/jcTSsetG9hZ

Jeff has been teaching high school physics for the past six years, and has been taking photographs for the last year and a half. Last summer Jeff took images of the Milky Way from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

Jeff also maintained a picture-of-the-day website from 2003-2007 before taking his hobby to social media. Impressed by the huge community of photographers on Google+. Jeff was motivated to get a new camera and dive deeper into his hobby.

You can view Jeff’s entire Flickr album at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/ and you can add Jeff to your Google+ photography circle at: https://plus.google.com/u/0/114435675631396141366/about

Which Planet is This? A Gale Crater Doppelganger

The Badwater Basin region of California’s Death Valley acquired by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite (EO-1) on October 23, 2002. Alluvial fans in the image are remarkably similar to the terrain that the Curiosity rover will explore on Mars. Image and annotations from NASA Earth Observatory

Leave it to NASA’s Earth Observtory folks to come up with a terrestrial image that captures the familiar terrain the car-sized rover Curiosity will explore on Mars.

“You would really be forgiven for thinking that NASA was trying to pull a fast one on you, and we actually put a rover out in the Mojave Desert and took a picture,” said project scientist John Grotzinger during a recent press conference.

Curiosity set down along a fan-shaped apron of dirt and debris known as an alluvial fan. The landform likely formed when liquid water flowed down the side of Gale Crater through a network of stream channels and valleys onto the crater floor. Although no liquid water seems to exist on the surface of Mars, the tell-tale traces of liquid water’s flow is abundant.

Gaze down onto the Badwater Basin area of California’s Death Valley National Park in this image from NASA’s Earth Observing-1 Satellite (EO-1). Take a peek at the earthimagified version. Alluvial fans are abundant in this image. Occasional storms send flash floods rushing down canyons in this arid landscape. The water transports sediment from the mountains and deposits them in the fan-shaped patterns we see in the image. The white region to the left of the image is a salt flat; the remains of a dried up lake. Scientists note that Gale Crater is also a basin with no outlets so water that pooled in the crater may leave behind similar salts and deposits.

The NASA site also points out that many features, including wind, volcanism, and alternating wet and dry conditions, make this area a perfect laboratory for planning missions to Mars. In fact, a dark patch just north of the large alluvial fan to the left of the image is called Mars Hill due to its similarity to features seen at the Viking 1 landing site. Viking 1 landed on Mars July 20, 1976.

There is a primary difference between the landscapes and features of Gale Crater and Badwater Basin and that is age. The features of Death Valley are billions of years younger than those found on Mars and the site continues to be shaped by water. Scientists believe water stopped flowing on Mars billions of years ago; the sediments deposited by ancient rivers on Mars buried by eons of wind-driven erosion.

John Williams is a science writer and owner of TerraZoom, a Colorado-based web development shop specializing in web mapping and online image zooms. He also writes the award-winning blog, StarryCritters, an interactive site devoted to looking at images from NASA’s Great Observatories and other sources in a different way. A former contributing editor for Final Frontier, his work has appeared in the Planetary Society Blog, Air & Space Smithsonian, Astronomy, Earth, MX Developer’s Journal, The Kansas City Star and many other newspapers and magazines.