Utah Skies: Milky Way Galaxy Wintertime Vs. Summertime View

Mar 8, 2021

The Milky Way in Winter.
Credit Dell Vance

The Milky Way Galaxy is a spiral galaxy with several arms. Our solar system is located in one of the smaller arms, the Orion Arm. In the wintertime evening sky, the Milky Way runs from Cassiopeia to a position just east of Orion. The Milky Way can be easily found by locating Sirius, the Dog Star, and Procyon. The Orion Arm of the Milky Way lies between these two stars.

The wintertime view of the Milky Way is quite different than the summertime view.

In the summertime evening sky, you will find the Milky Way is running from Cassiopeia through Cygnus, the Swan, and ending between Sagittarius and Scorpio. It is very bright and has dark regions of dust. The area between Sagittarius and Scorpio is in the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way. The Sagittarius Arm has a high concentration of stars. Directionally you are looking toward the center of the Milky Way.


In the wintertime, you are looking at stars in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. The Orion Arm has a lower concentration of stars than the Sagittarius Arm. Directionally you are looking away from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The result is that the wintertime view of the Milky Way is less spectacular than the summertime view.


Nightscape photos of the Milky Way can be easily taken with a Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera (DSLR) and a tripod. Basically, on a moonless night, in a location away from light pollution, simply point the DSLR toward the area where the Milky Way is known to be. The camera settings that work well for this type of picture are:


- 20 to 30-second exposure

- ISO 800 or higher

- Focal Length as low as possible for the camera

- Set the focus to infinity (be sure to check focus after an image is taken)


Some of these photos can be spectacular.