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Milky Way Panoramas

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I finally completed a project to capture a view of the Milky Way, one season at a time. Here are the results. These pages are bigger than most, even though the pictures have been reduced and compressed heavily from their (approx 50 MB) originals.

Autumn Milky Way

Autumn (100K). From Alberta Canada.

Winter (100K). The sodium vapor skies near Flagstaff Arizona.

Spring (100K). From the ice strewn shore of Lake Superior.

A description of its assembly.

Summer. The weather cleared long enough to make this one. Rural Minnesota is not optimal however.


Panoramas of the Sky

Just about everyone, when they look up at a dark sky, admires the Milky Way. It is one of the features of the night that consistently takes my breath away, and I have long been impressed by all-sky photos that show the distinctive river of light flowing across it. So when I obtained a wide angle lens for my old Nikkormat, I wondered if I could assemble several wide views into a full horizon to horizon panorama. The pictures above are the result.

There were some challenges in splicing separate pictures together and hiding the seams. I hope someday to improve on my methods and write about them on these pages. But first, I have a few more seasons of sky photography to complete.


Technical Details

The pictures were taken with a 20mm f/4 Nikon lens stopped down to f/5.6. The camera was "piggybacked" on a telescope that tracked the sky for each exposure of 20 minutes. The telescope was used to manually make small tracking corrections. Even though the view was very wide I wanted to avoid any possibility of elongated stars on the film.

The film was 35mm Ektachrome E200 which was then deliberately overdeveloped by two stops so that it had an approximate speed of 800. The transparencies were scanned to PhotoCD format which I find to be an excellent way to obtain inexpensive high-resolution low-noise digital images from film, though the color fidelity is somewhat dependent on the scanner operator.

Three pictures were used for the Autumn panorama, six for Winter (which used a wider aspect ratio and had more overlap). Assembly was with Adobe Photoshop, and some custom software. It felt a little like trying to put together orange peel sections into a flat map. Global and local color adjustments were needed to match the seams.


20 June 1999:

I have added "Spring", a panorama assembled with some newer methods to solve the stitching problems in mosaics. The labor involved is no less, probably more, but I am quite satisfied with the results. If you are interested in the gory details...


Other Milky Way panoramas from mosaics (let me know if you have one to add to the list):

Lund Observatory
(a pioneering view)

Axel Mellinger's 360 degrees

John Gleason



Copyright 1999-Apr-27

Thor Olson