Feast of the Assumption

Posted by Ellen

Three lights in the night create this image: firelight, starlight, and a glowing streak of human brilliance.

The human-powered light is the silvery streak at lower left, created by the photographer's brother, who was cycling along a mountain-bike trail in the high prairies of central Italy's Appenine Mountains. Either the cyclist wore a headlamp, or his bike was outfitted with a headlamp. The camera lens stayed open for almost half an hour–27 minutes–to preserve the track of the route.

The firelight near the lower right of the picture was from the village of Tornimparte, in the valley far below the hillsides we see here. The photo was taken in mid-August, on the night following the Feast of the Assumption, when bonfires mark the end of the summer harvest.

The starlight notably features the Milky Way, which the photographer said he'd never seen before. The reason he'd never seen it before might be visible in the part of the sky just over the horizon behind the village bonfires. The night sky looks pale back there, with fewer stars visible to the eye–perhaps because of distant light pollution emanating from the Roman metropolis about sixty miles to the northwest. 

If you click on the photo and study the enlarged version–yes, life is short, but go ahead, waste a few moments fussing with a pretty picture–you may be able to see that the stars are not pinpoints of light but short little line segments, almost like tiny bits of the bicycle's light trail. In this case, however, it's not the stars so much as the earth that's moving; 27 minutes is such a long exposure time that the earth spins through almost 2% of its daily rotation, leaving little streaks of starlight as the camera and the mountains and the bicycle all move through the night.