Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, February 13th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Mono Lake South Tufa on February 13th, 2015

Night photography provides a wonderful opportunity for contemplation. You are more likely to be waiting for an exposure to finish than be actively doing anything, and that provides a lot of time to think. As to what to think about, I find my mind always wanders toward the sky above and what is out there. I’ve always had a fascination with space (got my bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering), and I find that thinking about it is a wonderful way to put your brain through some mental gymnastics.

When we look up at the sky on a clear dark night we see, simply put, lots of stars. A seemingly uncountable amount. And yet with the naked eye you can actually only see around 5,000 stars. That’s right, a mere 5,000; and that’s if you have great eyesight and an amazingly clear night. And if 5,000 can seem like an uncountable amount consider that our galaxy alone has somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars, 80 million times more than you can see with your eye. What we see is a mere 0.00000125% of our celestial neighborhood.

What wonders, what creatures, what intelligent beings are lurking out there in the other 99.99999875% of our galaxy? Let alone the rest of the universe? Our Milky Way is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies. There is no way to conceive of that vastness in human terms, which is where imagination always steps in to help. To me it seems entirely possible that grand civilizations could have blossomed, spread to millions of planets, and lasted millions of years. And yet we wouldn’t have the faintest idea of their existence. Or perhaps it’s humanity’s fate to flourish in a similar manner and provide fodder for the imaginations of aliens on some distant world where they’ve only just discovered radio.

I can only hope that if we ever do cross paths with some alien intelligence that our eyes and ears are open to receive their transmission.

As for this photo, it’s a single 74-minute exposure of star trails above Mono Lake. The glow on the horizon is the town of Bridgeport reflecting off some low clouds. And if you look closely you can also see the head- and taillights of cars driving on highway 395 near Conway Summit. The temperature was a balmy 40 degrees F and the coyotes were yipping and yapping, enjoying the night as much as I was.

View more beautiful Mountain and Lake photos.

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7 replies
  1. Chloe Ann Stone
    Chloe Ann Stone says:

    Thanks to all of yours saying, specially to Joshua Cripps, allowed me make some reflection how small we are to compare with the Almighty’s creation, helped me to be more humble, and realize that we can reach more comprehension of the Universe and things around us n’ most of at all WHO created those marvelous things n’ be close to the Almighty!..Thanks Joshua!

    Reply
  2. Steve Adcock
    Steve Adcock says:

    Cool shot, definitely one of those that keeps me staring into the photograph longer than most. It’s amazing what the sky will present to you, as long as you keep your shutter open long enough to capture it. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Isabel HernándezTibau
    Isabel HernándezTibau says:

    Me gustó mucho esta reflexión. El universo es tan misterioso y mágico para lo terrícolas que creo podemos seguir imaginando todo lo que se nos ocurra y seguramente en algo habremos acertado. Los descubrimientos se están dando con mucha frecuencia y eso es maravilloso!!! Quién sabe si finalmente no encontraremos vecinos amables en cualquier momento!!! La foto es fantástica!!!

    Reply
  4. Les Taylor
    Les Taylor says:

    I grew up in Florida, and my favorite time to go to the beach was at night for this reason. Unfortunately I wasn’t much of a photographer at the time, but sitting on the beach looking out at the stars often got me thinking about this as well. One thing I realized is that, as vast and massive as the universe is, the chances of life are proportionately slim. As difficult as it is for the mind to contemplate the expanse of space, it’s just as difficult to wrap our minds around how many variables are necessary for life to be possible. We probably only know a small percentage at this point to be honest. Given that, I think it’s very possible we’re the only living beings in the universe, although I also believe in God, so if you took the C.S. Lewis approach perhaps he has created other worlds as well. Anyway, beautiful image as always, and thanks for a little thought provocation to start my morning. 🙂

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Hey Les,

      Thanks for your thoughts. As you said, we probably only understand a small percentage of the variables necessary for life to exist, which to me means that life could be far more likely than any of us realizes. What fascinates me is how everywhere on Earth we’ve traveled we’ve found signs of life, even in areas where it seems impossible, such as 500-degree thermal vents in the ocean. Wherever there is energy and chemical activity, there’s life! I suspect that in the millennia to come as we explore more of the universe that we will find the same. At least I hope we do, otherwise it seems like an awful waste of space. 🙂

      Cheers,

      Josh

      Reply

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