Magnificent photos of the Milky Way have been captured by pilot Christiaan van Heijst from a 747 cockpit.
Christiaan, one of the world’s leading aviation photographers, takes up the story of his Milky Way photos;
“20-second exposure over the midnight Atlantic. Cockpit lights dimmed smooth skies, no moon and only the light from countless age-old stars out there. Invisible to the naked eye but plainly obvious for my camera, the night sky holds so many colours and hues. On the far left to the north, a faint shimmering of earth-glow and a hint of the aurora. Ahead and slightly to the south-east a distinct orange glow, which might well be the city lights of Europe being reflected off the upper parts of Earth’s atmosphere from far across the horizon. I’m not sure, but that’s the only logical explanation I can think of.
“Once my eyes are adjusted to total darkness, I notice cloudscapes drifting by below; illuminated merely by faraway stars. Light that has travelled for many thousands, sometimes even billions of years across time and space.
“Born from a thermonuclear process in enormous gas-reactors we call stars, randomly flung across the voids of intergalactic space. Passing planets, systems, the shoulders of Orion, nebulae and maybe witnessed incredible secrets along its journey, only to end up going through the bug-ridden windscreen of a 747 cockpit. Smack in the middle of the aperture of a camera lens that’s put there by a random bloke who just decided ‘to give it a try’.
“A camera held still by stabilizing the lens on a pretty tasty cheese-sandwich by the way.
“After having crossed half the visible universe, it was directed through even more glass elements onto a sensitive digital sensor, triggering an electric impulse, which translated into a binary digit and, together with millions of other bits of data, kept as a magnetic charge on a memory card as a digital image.
“Many moons later, that same random chap (enjoying a hot brew of coffee this time), decides to upload that specific collection of digits through a Wi-Fi connection with a worldwide electronic network, so identical representations of that image are downloaded by devices all around the planet. Their screens translate it into new photons/light that is transmitted straight into your eyes right now.
“Passing the lens of your eyeball, it ends up on your retina, once again translated into an electrical signal, travelling via the optical nerve to the rear of your perfectly dark and silent brain. Here it is processed into something you think you ‘see’ with your conscious mind, but what is merely an electrical signal coming into a grey jelly mass that’s deciphering the digital inputs into… what?
“The universe is in the eye of the beholder.”
Christiaan is one of the world’s leading aviation photographers and more of his work and more close encounter (s) can be found here.
You can follow Christiaan on Instagram here: @jpcvanheijst