On Saturday night after I’d had a shower and ready to go to bed, I had a change of heart, and packed my camera and lenses etc. and jumped into the car and drove for four hours from Tokyo to the Urabandai area of Fukushima Prefecture in northern Japan. The autumn colour is setting in, and I wanted to get a few shots in the early hours, so leaving in the morning was not an option.
As I prepared to leave though, I checked the time of the sunrise with my iPhone app Magic Hour, and also noted that there was no moon on Oct 17, 2009, which means good conditions for photographing the stars in the night sky, if it is clear of course.
I arrived in the area at about 3:30AM, and about 40 minutes driving around trying to find a good spot to park and set up my camera. I wanted a nice horizon to form a base for my image of the night sky. It was difficult, because the lights from the car basically contrasted so much with the total darkness outside, that it was hard to tell what the surrounding actually look like, but I finally found a lay-by, and stopped the car.
As I turned off the car lights, then the engine, first the dashboard lights went out, and the interior lights in the car came on for 20 seconds or so. Then as the interior lights dimmed over a couple of seconds, I was initially almost scared by the absolute total darkness. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced dark quite this totally black. It was like RGB #000000 black! Then though, as my eyes accustomed to the darkness, I started to see the myriad of stars behind the brighter ones that I had been able to just about make out while driving.
I stepped out of the car, and was simply amazed by the sky. It was as though there was no part of the sky that did not contain a star. Then though, literally seconds after I started to look up at the sky, there was a flash, almost like the pop of a strobe. I literally turned around, thinking that maybe there was someone else up here in the mountains of Fukushima, maybe doing a model shoot in the middle of the night or something else weird.
There was no one around though, but as I turned my head back around, I saw a shooting star. Just a coincidence I thought, until a few minutes later, there was another flash. With my eyes now more accustomed to the dark and the night sky, it seemed as though pretty much the whole sky was flashing, but it was definitely coming from the sky.
Then, as before, there was a shooting star. I’d never heard of this before, but I figured this was probably the initial explosion as the meteor hit the atmosphere and started to burn up. I was up there for maybe 45 minutes, and shot the above image before the sky started to mist over, and we started to enter nautical twilight, reducing the brightness of the stars. The photograph that ended up being the best of the few I shot was a high ISO (1600) test image, and so quite noisy and a little soft, but it will hopefully give you some idea as to what it looked like up their. The longer exposure that I shot after this was not as good because of the mist and lighter sky. I’ll head out earlier next time the conditions are right and try to get some really nice star shots, but that is not really the point of this post.
I heard today that the meteors were probably part of the Orionids meteor shower. It seems this around October 17 and 18, and I was seeing this on the night of the 18th, so the timing is right, and as you can see, in the top right of this photograph is the constellation of Orion, which is the general direction from which the shooting stars fell.
If I had not been so worried by the rustlings and twig snapping in the mountains around me, probably caused by deer and monkeys, but scary because it could have been a bear, I would have made a wish. As it was, I totally forgot to. I’m not too concerned though. I was just really happy and totally amazed by this initial flash as the meteors hit the atmosphere of the Earth. I felt so small under that amazing sky, and humbled by the scale and power of what I had witnessed.