Polaris Star Trails


Star trails surround the north star in this 8-hour exposure. In the center stands a saguaro cactus, sentinel of the Sonoran Desert. The distinctive square peak on the right is Castle Dome Peak, a regional landmark.

This photograph appeared on NASA/USRA's Earth Science Picture of the Day site on June 7, 2004.

Star Trail Photography

In the past I've called star trail photography "the lazy person's astrophotography," since it seems that all one has to do is plop the camera down on a tripod and open the shutter! That may be true of relatively short exposures, perhaps an hour or two. But I've come to realize that to get a classic shot of really long trails (10+ hours), in which countless arcs seem to completely encircle the pole, is a very challenging proposition ... indeed I've never done it myself! At 8 hours, this photo is the longest exposure I've achieved to date. To get a longer exposure, all of these circumstances would have to coincide:

How often are we presented with all of these opportunities at once? With planning and effort, one can improve the odds and get that classic shot ... and that is definitely not being "lazy"!

Date: December 27-28, 2002
Time: 7:14 p.m. to 3:14 a.m. MST
Location: Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Camera: Olympus OM-1 35mm SLR on fixed tripod
Film: Kodak Elite Chrome 100 Extra Color slide
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8-11
Exposure time: 8 hours
Scanner: Nikon Coolscan LS-2000

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Revised: September 17, 2009
Copyright © 2004 Joe Orman
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