Heart of Louisiana: In search of the Milky Way

Published: Jul. 25, 2017 at 9:01 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2017 at 10:08 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - It was a night of frogging in a crawfish pond near the city of Rayne that reminded me of the spectacular beauty of the night sky. Far from city lights, you see an amazing star-filled universe. But for most of us, city lights and street lamps mask the stars.

"You don't really realize how much light pollution there is until you don't have it at all," said Andre Constantini.

Constantini is a professional photographer and videographer who leads workshops on night sky photography.

"With today's digital cameras, you're able to really capture so much light, in fact sometimes even better than your eye can see," he said.

To find truly dark sky and the Milky Way, and to learn how to photograph it, I headed west to our national parks, Zion in southern Utah and Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in northwest Wyoming.

"Dark sky is a pretty rare phenomenon in the United States," Constantini said.

Without light pollution, the Milky Way rises above the horizon, forming an archway over mountains and evergreens. It becomes a treasure hunt, finding locations during the day that have unobstructed views of the southeast horizon, and returning near midnight to capture a natural wonder.

"And then to try to find foreground elements that give whatever the location is a sense of place is for me is the challenge," Constantini said.

From a pioneer cabin, the barn of an abandoned Mormon settlement, to a mountain valley homestead and sweeping panoramas that show the grand arch of our galaxy. As you stare at the dark sky, you are overwhelmed by billions of points of light. But I wanted to experience this in my home state, without having to travel a thousand miles.

"A large number of American kids have never seen the Milky Way," said Chris Kersey. "And if you travel, if you travel to places like the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, places like Kisatchie National Forest and Hodges Gardens State Park, you are going to see a world of difference."

Kersey manages the Highland Road Park Observatory near Baton Rouge. At this observatory, they struggle with dark sky all the time, and the amateur astronomers here are doing all they can to try to keep the problem from getting worse.

"It needs to be only as bright as it should be, aimed toward the target that it was meant for, and sufficiently capped so that it doesn't bother anything else around it," Kersey said.

My search takes me to the marshes of Southwest Louisiana, near the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, only a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, looking for dark sky and the Milky Way. And there it was, rising above the southern horizon, the spectacular galactic center of  the Milky Way, arching its way across a third of
the sky. This time lapse shows its movement over the course of an hour.

"And when your eyes can see the Milky Way all by themselves, it's just pretty spectacular and you realize it's something you don't get in most places in the United States.

It is a sight worth searching for, and an experience you will never forget.

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