11/24/14: Rainbow colors in the night sky

So, looking out at the night sky, you just never know what you might see. Sitting in the living room last night at about 11:00 I looked out the window to the west, and saw what appeared to be a plane with multi-colored flashing lights, but not moving; it almost looked like a hovering drone (if you’ve ever seen one of the bigger ones at night). Now I’ve seen plenty of ‘twinkling’ stars, but I’d never seen anything quite like it, so I stepped out onto the deck with camera to try and find out what it was. It quickly became apparent that it was moving with the starfield, and it was indeed the star Sirius, one of our closest neighboring suns at 8.5 million light years away.



View of the eastern night sky over Golden, CO.

We’ve all seen stars twinkle, but I had never seen anything even remotely like this, and I knew that a standard image would not capture any color, as the long exposure would additively blend all the colors to white (remember your color theory back in school?). So I resorted to moving the camera during exposure while focused on the star, so that it effectively left ‘star trails’ in the image. Seeing the results, I never could have guessed that the atmosphere could produce such rapidly changing color from a ‘twinkling’ star. I also captured a long-exposure image of Rigel (in the constellation Orion), but it proved to be relatively colorless, tending toward blue.



Rainbow colors of the star Sirius, revealed by a long-exposure utilizing camera movement to reveal the changes in color over time due to atmospheric effects upon the relatively bright star’s light, which is usually low in the winter sky here in the northern hemisphere.



(100% crop of previous image)



Blue-ish colors of the star Rigel (note lack of rainbow colors), revealed by a long-exposure utilizing camera movement to reveal any changes in color over time.



Additional view of the rainbow colors of the star Sirius (revealed by a long-exposure utilizing camera movement to reveal the changes in color over time).



(100% crop of previous image)



Star chart


Weird stuff out there at night, our galaxy is an interesting thing to observe if you take the time to look.