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Early autumn ideal for viewing Milky Way in Finland

If conditions are right it’s even possible to view the Milky Way with the naked eye.

Ilkka Laukkanen's photos were widely admired on Facebook. Image: Ilkka Laukkanen / Lukijan kuva

Amateur astronomers are in for a treat as autumn skies dim to reveal the secrets of the Milky Way in the days ahead. According to Santeri Manninen of Ursa Astronomical Association, early autumn is the best time to observe and photograph the heavens. That’s because skies darken earlier in the evening and there is no snow to contribute to light pollution.

For many city dwellers, contemplating the Milky Way -- home to our solar system and planet -- may be quite a novelty. Even in the countryside, observers may not necessarily detect the formation right away.

"After watching the dark sky for a while, at some point you’ll see a path [cutting] across the heavens," Manninen explained.

The astronomer said that the best time to observe the Milky Way is when the sun sets between 10 and 11pm and reveals the galaxy as it wraps around the sky from the west to the south.

Photos well worth the wait

Skywatcher Ilkka Laukkanen from Akaa in the Tampere region spent two years waiting for the perfect shot of the Milky Way. His photos were well worth the wait and have been widely admired on Facebook.

"I was finally able to do it the other night. I lit up the field as well as the fences with a flashlight," Laukkanen said, describing his photographic technique.

Story continues after photo.

Ilkka Laukkanen captured the Milky Way hovering over a field in Akaa in the Tampere. Image: Ilkka Laukkanen / Lukijan kuva

However he said that getting the galaxy to line up with the field where he set up was challenging. "Of course there can’t be any clouds and the moon should be below the horizon," he added.

While the Milky Way is best viewed in the dark, humidity should also be low. For Laukkanen, photography is just a hobby; what really interests him are celestial phenomena.

"You can see the Milky Way with the naked eye and try to get pictures of something new," he commented.

An "incredible vision of beauty"

From our vantage point on earth, we can only see a small part of our home galaxy and our very existence centres on the Sun. However, the disc-shaped Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of other stars.

Two years ago, astronomy emeritus professor Esko Valtaoja and Ursa issued a "Spot the Milky Way" challenge to get people in Finland to turn their gaze towards the sky.

Story continues after photo.

Feathers float on a placid lake under the glitter of the Milky Way. Image: Ilkka Laukkanen / Lukijan kuva

"Everyone is amazed when they see the Milky Way for the first time. The way the stars shine really blows your mind. It’s an incredible vision of beauty that far too few people have experienced," Valtaoja said at the time.

The professor noted that the ideal setting for a visual star trek is as far away as possible from human settlements.

"We can feel that we are part of something bigger. When you pick your nose you’ll find star dust there. Every living thing is made up of heavy metals, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen that were created as stars in the Milky Way died. That’s where we all come from," Valtaoja concluded.