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Jekyll Island, GA & The Milky Way

I took the plunge and drove 4-5 hours to Jekyll Island, just north of Jacksonville.

I wanted to go and catch sunset and then get some Milky Way action after astronomical twilight. Storms during the past couple of weekends have put a stopper on going though. I took a risk this weekend even though there was expected heavy clouds until the middle of the night. With the moon also rising at 11:45pm, I was cutting it really close with a sky that would stay clear and be moon free. I got a lucky last time I went to Blood Mountain, so I thought what the heck.

The main reason why I wanted to go was because of Driftwood Beach, which has bare trees and washed up logs all along the beach. It’s also pretty dark down there, well compared to other parts of the East Coast. Looking south down Jekyll Island, would be the darker Cumberland Island (which is completely undeveloped, being under National Park management), so looking south, towards the Milky Way should show little light pollution.

Well that was the plan…...The one thing I forgot to take into account was how close Driftwood Beach was to Saint Simons Island, which is anything but dark. On top of the light pollution there was also the lighthouse on St Simons, that intermittently lit up the beach. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself though.

For sunset, I did plan to go to the north part of the island, which has some driftwood on the beach but more importantly would allow me to get the setting sun back-lighting the driftwood, as it was setting towards the north-west. While I was walking up there though I came across this open field with an amazingly green marsh and I thought I’ll pass up the driftwood shot (I was going to to shot it with the Milky Way anyway).

Don’t know if I was too happy with those big, stormy looking clouds being there. Don’t get me wrong, it made the sunset picture look great but I came for the Milky Way, and those clouds did look pretty ominous.

Once blue hour rolled around, I got my camera set up next to a cool piece of driftwood overlooking the rising Milky Way. With high tide coming in at around the time of the moon rise, I did have to move the camera but I got a nice blue hour shot, with some nice saturated colors and a just visible galactic core.

That stretch of yellow light on the water is from the lighthouse at St Simons and the red glow on the water is me light painting with my headlamp.

I did have to move the camera pretty soon after - tides move quick! Once astronomical twilight hit I got some decent shots with the Milky Way and it’s galactic core very much visible and on full display. All the light pollution from Saint Simons, did give them a nasty white-orange glow. I got rid of most of it with some light painting, using a flashlight with a blue gel. I even made use of the lighthouse; I waited for it flash towards the water so that it lit up the waves perpendicular to my flashlight.

You can see the Milky Way here in it's full glory.

Overall pretty happy, well I was till I had to drive another 5 hours back, soaked from the knee down.

The Milky Way At Blood Mountain, GA


Recently I headed off to Blood Mountain, up in the Georgia Mountains. I wanted to get my second dip in the water with astrophotography and in particular photographing the Milky Way (my first attempt, at possibly the best place to take it in the northern hemisphere).

First, I'll walk you through the research before I headed out. As anyone with any experience with astrophotography will tell you; you need dark skies. I headed over to lightpollutionmap.info to check how much light pollution there is in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Turns out there's still a couple of good dark locations in Georgia! The thing to look for in this map is not only the light pollution in the area you are thinking of going to but also the light pollution in the direction you're camera's going to be pointing, unless of course you're going to point it straight up.

Light pollution map  showing Blood Mountain and the light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south.

Light pollution map showing Blood Mountain and the light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south.

To get the galactic core of the Milky Way in the frame you're more than likely going to be pointing the lens towards the south. As you can see, Blood Mountain has the heavily light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south. They seemed reasonably far away from Blood Mountain though so I thought it was still worth the trip.

Next, I checked for clear skies - don't want those pesky clouds blocking the stars. I used the Climendo app/website (pro version has hourly reports) as it aggregates several weather forecasts. I kind of risked it as clear skies weren't certain.

There are couple of other things you may want to do, like checking for the composition of the Milky Way with the surrounding landscape using PhotoPills or Stellarium, and of course make sure it's between April and October so the galactic core of the Milky Way would be visible after astronomical twilight.

 

And now for the results:

In the first shot (the one to the left), you can see the town of Cleveland (might be Dahlonega) giving off a lot of light pollution. There's also plenty of cloud cover covering it up, which is softening up the light glow pretty nicely.

I waited a bit and moved to the left and got a straight up and down shot of the galactic core. The cloud cover by then had passed and revealed the light pollution glow in it's full glory.

Panorama of three fisheye shots, from a rock sledge on top of Blood Mountain.

Single shot using the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 ex dg.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the visibility of the Milky Way in the photographs but I think I spent too much time focusing on the stars rather than on the foreground and I've ended up with some noisy, dark foreground subjects. Third time should be the charm and next on the list is going to be Brasstown Bald, a little further north from Blood Mountain.

Check out my blog post about the Milky Way over Jekyll Island, GA.