How you can see the Milky Way from Jamaica

October 09, 2016  •  9 Comments

Unknown to most Jamaicans, we can see the Milky Way from Jamaica. Why haven't I been able to see it you ask? There are many reasons for this which we'll get into shortly.

In my teens I've always had a deep fascination with the stars and space. I remember spending hours looking on pictures of galaxies and nebulae in complete awe. My fascination reached the point that I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist or an astronomer which unfortunately was not mean to be. Through high school and college I continued my occasional reading on related subjects including black holes, quasars, nebula, etc (Yes, I'm a nerd). As I got older and busier with life this interest took a back seat for several years.

 

A Beautiful Accident

In the Summer of 2013 I went to Whitfield Hall Hostel where we were to overnight before my first hike up to the Blue Mountain peak. Before heading to bed to rest for the hike, I roamed the area to take pictures of the cabin and the property. It wasn't until months later that I realized that I had accidentally captured the Milky Way in one of the images. My mind was blown and my eyes were open. Prior to that moment I did not realize that it was possible to see the Milky Way in the night sky. From this point onward my interest in stars and space was re-ignited and the hunt for the Milky Way began.  

 

The Hunt Begins

Armed with my new found but meager knowledge of the Milky Way, my search began at Holywell in April of 2014. This attempt unfortunately came up empty handed which, taught me my first lesson, that is, the Milky Way is not always present in the night sky. This trip fortunately was not a waste as I captured my first two favourite nightscape images which can be seen below:

 

The Search Continued

Determined to find the Milky Way, my research began to find out why I wasn't able to see or capture it. My search directed me to the following fundamental lessons :

  1. When the Milky Way is in the night sky, we are not able to see it from the city or populated areas due to light pollution. Light pollution is roughly defined as "the brightening of the night sky caused by street lights and other man-made sources, which inhibits the observation of stars and planets."
  2. Once we head in to areas with little to no light pollution, we still may not be able to see it if there is a half or full moon. As a result of this, it is recommended that you look out for it during new moons or while the moon has set.
  3. From mid October to mid March, it is not visible in the night sky because the brighter areas are in the sky when the sun is up. As a result, it is recommended that you shoot during the "Milky Way" season which starts in mid March and ends in mid October. 
  4. The Milky way can be tricky to find unless you know what you are looking for. To help with this search, mobile apps like PhotoPills for iOS or Stellarium Mobile for Android have come highly recommended.

 

With this new found information, my search took a turn for the better. In the summer of 2014, on my way to Treasure Beach from Black River, I drove through an area which was void of street lights and was more or less pitch black. Added to the fact that the moon had already set, I had the WILD idea to stop at a near by shop in an attempt to capture the Milky way. A few shots later, I was able to capture my first deliberate shots of the Milky Way, the best of which can be seen below.

On my way back from Ocho Rios on the North South High in September of that same year, I noticed that the conditions were similar to that of Treasure Beach and I had the same wild idea yet again. We quickly stopped the car on the high way which resulted in the following images:

From that point onward, my confidence grew and in four different road trips around Jamaica in 2015, I was successful in capturing it at multiple locations . These locations including: Holywell, Pelican Bar on the coast of St. Elizabeth, Jakes in Treasure Beach, Grand Palladium in Lucea and Goblin Hill in Portland. The following images are some of my favourite shots from these trips.


 

Major Point of Note: Light Pollution

As I mentioned earlier on, light pollution robs us of our ability to see the Milky Way clearly. To truly put things in to perspective, the below image shows the Milky Way over the light pollution of Kingston which I believe speaks volumes.

Light pollution is a world wide problem that affects us and future generations. If you are interested in finding out more about light pollution and what you can do to help, check out these articles: Reduce Light PollutionHow to Take Action to Prevent Light Pollution and 5 ways you can reduce light pollution.

 

 

Conclusion

We can indeed see the Milky Way from Jamaica once conditions are right and the location is free of light pollution. The best time to search for it if you have never seen it before, is in August during a New Moon with the aid of one of the mobile applications which I've previously listed.


Comments

Darrien(non-registered)
Thank you for this. I'm further south in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I've been trying to figure out if it's possible to truly photograph the Milky Way from the region and when. Your article helps a lot. Your images are truly wonderful!
Colaine(non-registered)
What type of camera did you use to take these great images?
Jo NY(non-registered)
You are my hero!
Andre(non-registered)
Breathtaking
Steve(non-registered)
Amazing work, very talented. Great job!
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