I remember the first time I photographed the core of our Milky Way Galaxy. It was March of 2014. I was on Little Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea. It was 2 am when I walked out of my bungalow to the beach. The moon had just set and Venus rose over the horizon shinning nearly as bright as the moon. Hovering over the ocean the Milky Way Galaxy arched out in the heavens above. After pressing the shutter on my camera I revealed the secrets of the night sky. You could see the core burning faintly like a glowing fog in the night sky, but my camera revealed a core shinning bright. Revealing the light of billions of stars. It was this moment that was awe struck and completely hooked.
To view the Milky Way Galaxy it is helpful to know in which direction to look. This changes throughout the year. Above is a link to a free program called Stellarium. With this program you can track the movement of the Milky Way Galaxy and other celestial objects. The program is free and mobile friendly.
The core of our Milky Way Galaxy is visible here in the mid west from about mid February to November. Early in the year it is visible right before sunrise viewing it to the south east. As spring progresses the core rises South East as it marches through the night sky towards South. This is a magical time of the year when you can view the Milky Way Galaxy arching like a rainbow in the night sky low over the horizon. As time progresses from spring to summer the Milky Way Core rises earlier and earlier in the night. As Summer hits as soon as astronomical twilight begins the core is visible until sunrise. This time of year the Core is visible directly South as it marches South West. This is when you can get some incredible vertical photos. Finally in the fall the Milky Way Galaxy is only visible right after sunset, but as the months progress on it vanishes over the horizon to the southwest earlier and earlier every night up until about November.
Plan It For Photographers is an incredible app for those interested in not only viewing the Milky Way Galaxy but planning your shots as well. It helps track so many things and I highly recommend it to anyone pursuing landscape photography. There is a fee but it is well worth it! You can track moon rise and set, sunrise and sunset, how long blue hour lasts, when astronomical twilight begins and ends, the movement of the Milky Way Galaxy, a dark sky map to find dark skies for viewing and even tidal changes for those along the coastline. There are plenty of Youtube videos on how to use the app. Check it out and enjoy!
Another resource you will want to check out is the heat map created by Darksitefinder. This heat map shows what light pollution will look like in your area. For viewing the Milky Way Core you will want to pay attention to the time of year and what is in your line of sight. Mainly you will want lots of green, blue, grey, black, or opaque in your line of site. Even small cities that have yellow an orange can hinder your viewing. It is possible to see the core even in yellow areas.
Another factor you will want to pay close attention to is when the moon rises and sets, and which phase it is in. There are numerous apps out there and Plan It For Photographers is an excellent one. To get a better visual though I like the link above. It is an app called Phases Of The Moon. It is a free app that shows you what the moon phase is throughout the month. Roughly you will want the moon phase to be 11% or less for optimal viewing. Yet there are windows of opportunity depending on when it rises and sets. There is usually a 12-14 day window every month granted there are no clouds.
Cloud cover can completely ruin your shot and your viewing. It can catch light pollution from surrounding cities and block out your view of the night sky. There are two websites I use to track sky cover here in the mid west. The first one is NOAA Sky Cover Map. I use this to watch out for predictions. It will show you there are chances for clear skies a few nights out. The second website I use is SSEC. This website will show you geostationary satellite imagery for the cloud cover over the United States and in the mid west. You can view jpegs or animated imagery to see what the cloud cover is doing and where it is tracking to.
I want to thank you for reading this blog. I hope this helps you view the Milky Way Galaxy. It is really an awe inspiring feeling to look up at the massive expanse of space. It really puts life in perspective and yet it is so difficult to comprehend the scale of the Universe. I hope you get a chance to view the core of our Milky Way Galaxy and share the same sense of awe for creation as I have. Thank you and good luck viewing. May you have clear skies!