Outstanding STEAM: Star Trail Photography

You've never seen stars like this before!

The image above is an example of star trail photography. If you stare at the sky in the same direction over a period of time, the stars will appear to move across to sky relative to the Earth. This happens because the Earth rotates. The above picture shows this effect captured on camera.

The trick behind star trail photos is long-exposure photography. Taking a photo with a long exposure time on a camera will leave the shutter open and let light into the camera for a longer period. Star trail photos usually have at least a 15-minute exposure time, though they can go up to a few hours. The longer the exposure time, the longer the star trails will be in the photo.

If the exposure time is long enough, the star trails will appear to stretch over the entire horizon like in the photo above. The angle and direction of the star trails depends on the photographer's latitude.

If you haven't before, try waiting for a clear night to observe the sky wherever you are. Take a look at these lessons for inspiration: Star Search (K–2), Looking at the Night Sky (3–5), and How Old Are the Stars? (9–12).

Image credit: European Southern Observatory


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