Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2009

By Phil Plait | December 15, 2009 6:00 am




#3: Eternally Stargazing

I normally wouldn’t associate Easter Island with astronomy. Of course, the skies there must be incredibly dark; located about 3000 km west of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, you might wonder how much more black the nights could be, and of course the answer is none. None more black.

The island, called Rapa Nui by its inhabitants (and yes, more than 3000 people live there), is most famous for its moai, or statues of heads (and the model for Squidward’s house, of course). When I was a kid, Easter Island was a big deal in the ancient astronauts nonsense, but even today as a hardened skeptic I see the mystical appeal of the statues. All of them vaguely expressionless, staring upwards, and waiting, always waiting…

And wait they have. Carved over five centuries ago, they still sit on the island, motionless beneath the canopy of the sky above. Posed this way, the moai Piro Piro was captured by the gifted astrophotographer Stéphane Guisard in this stunning image. It’s truly marvelous: you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud (one of several satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way) to the right, the bright star Canopus to its lower left, and, on the other side of the moai, a rainbow. But not just a rainbow: it’s a moonbow, using the Moon’s illumination instead of the Sun’s.

Note too the clouds in the picture. Normally that would spoil the view for an astrophotographer, but in this case they add to the moody atmosphere of the picture, compounding the ethereal feeling to the scene.

Original page

Credit: Stéphane Guisard, with permission.



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