A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2011 Feb 4, 15:22 -0800
George H, you wrote:
"It seems pretty clear, to me, that this is a completely-bogus composite agency picture, with the stars, and independently the comet (which seems to show little streaking) superimposed on to the picture of Stonehenge."
Yes, no question. It's artwork. In fact, I do believe I know where they purchased it. You can buy it yourself from Getty Images:
In case anyone's curious, I found the above via a simple search at google images. Just enter "stonehenge stars comet" and this turns up in the top five hits. Next drop "stars" from the search and you will find some really great actual photographs of comets over Stonehenge, and it appears that they are mostly real images, usually of Comet Hale-Bopp.
Dave Walden has, I think, correctly identified the star patterns. Vega and Cygnus are near the top. Several stars of Pegasus including three out of four in the Great Square are on the right. The head of Draco is on the far left. Alderamin (Alpha Cephei) is the brightest star just above the top of the stones very close to the center of the image. The field of view based on the visible stars (only, not the superimposed Stonehenge image) is about 70 degrees. That's wide, but there is not much "fisheye" effect here. The stars are about where they should be relative to one another.
So now we get to the positional astronomy part. The implied meridian would be where the star trails are horizontal --if this were a real photo of the night sky-- so that's somewhat left of center. Pick a spot about halfway between Deneb and Vega and drop a line to the horizon. The angle from Deneb to Alderamin is about twenty degrees. So that puts Polaris roughly ten to fifteen degrees below the horizon. Welcome to the tropics, Salisburians.
By the way, I suspect that the star trails layer of the photograph was actually taken from a high northern latitude and it was simply dropped in behind an image of Stonehenge in such a way that it ended up creating the appearance of a southern tropical location.
And what of Stonehenge? Google Maps has remarkably extensive "street view" imagery around Stonehenge so you can easily take a virtual stroll around the stones (see PS) and find just the right view that matches the one in the image you posted. If you go to this lat, lon: 51.179323,-1.825611 and then look towards the southwest, the view of Stonehenge matches up nicely, as you and Patrick already determined. This is the view from the area where the highway makes its closest approach to the site so the photo may well have been taken from the fence there. The field of view based on the stones is 25 degrees or less, again inconsistent with the wide field shown in the star layer of the image.
To summarize the astronomical implications, not only do we have Polaris below the horizon by some 15 degrees. It's also below the SOUTHWEST horizon!
Finally, the "comet" in this image looks to me like nothing more than a smudge effect. The result is "comet-like", but I doubt it's an actual image of a comet. And that's a real shame since there are some very beautiful photos of comets over Stonehenge.
I agree with you that it's more than a little absurd to suggest Stonehenge for dark-sky viewing, but some of the other places in the article sound good. And of course, it does give us a good excuse to visit Sark (which originally started this story). How crazy it is that we are reduced in 2011 to travelling hundreds of miles to find skies dark enough to see the Milky Way in its proper glory... And yet we can aim virtual telescopes and even control real telescopes from our Internet-overloaded homes...
PS: Since some NavList folks may not know how to do this, here are step-by-step instructions to use Google Street View in this situation. First, go to google maps: http://maps.google.com and type in (better yet copy and paste) these coordinates: 51.179323,-1.825611. Click Search. That will take you right to a spot by the road near Stonehenge. The green arrow centered in the window is your location. In the Google Maps controls (towards the left side in the window usually), you will see a "little yellow man" right above the "+" or "zoom in" button. Drag that figure with your mouse and drop it right on the green arrow indicating your chosen location. Or if you like, you can drop it right into the center of Stonehenge itself. The view should switch to street view and you can now explore panoramic ground-level imagery, here and in fact all around the world. The controls are not too complicated, but they take some getting used to. Just experiment. You'll get it soon enough...
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