Do you believe in paradise? Many people still dream about it, but I don’t have to anymore. I was there. Turqoise lagoon, beautiful Polynesian dancers, smell of the ocean, coconut palms… But not only that. After a long wait, my first night – after 4 years waiting to get here again – came on 18th August 2014. Hastily sitting with my camera on a tripod on the beach of Rarotonga Backpackers, I hardly knew what would follow. I almost forgot what it was like, but I knew that new memories were ahead. And then it came. The night, finally. Better than I remembered. Better than I expected. Milky Way like a pier in the endless starry carpet, so far away over the ocean. But this poetic impression wasn’t even close to enough.
It wasn’t a coincidence to arrive on Raro on this day. August and September are the best months to watch the night sky on the Cooks. All you need are clear skies and no moonlight. The New Moon was to occur on 26th August, so I had many nights to enjoy the dark sky. Probably the most amazing part of my first night was seeking so-called zodiacal light. In most of the world, zodiacal light is invisible or is a very faint and strange light column sticking out of the western horizon just less than an hour after sunset, continuing up to zenith, almost as if someone far out on the ocean is holding up a very powerful torch. It is likely that no one on the Cooks knows just how unique this is to witness. This light comes from dust particles spread around our solar system level, as the residual material from forming our Sun and planets 5 billion years ago. The dust itself doesn’t shine, it simply scatters the sunshine. Many people didn’t understand what they were seeing until the first explanation came in the 17th century. Zodiacal light in very dark places continues as a faint bridge across the sky and follows opposite column on the eastern horizon before sunrise. As the Earth, with its sloped axis, moves around the Sun during the year, the slope of the zodiacal light changes with it. Usually the best conditions in the southern hemisphere can be found in September, while March is ideal in the northern hemisphere. Furthermore, to see the light erected upright is only possible in places close to the Equator – like the Cook Islands.
Despite the column of zodiacal light you can find the center of the Milky way almost in the middle of the image – hight above my head. Also two planets appeared close to itself – reddish Mars and yellow Saturn. Red color on right-bottom is caused by airglow, natural fluorescence of Earth’s atmosphere. For the first image used Canon 6D, Samyang 24 mm, f2.8, ISO 5000, 58×10 s panorama; tripod. Fot the second image was used lenses Sigma 15 mm, f3,5, ISO 8000 (panorama of 2 images, each stackef from 33×20 second exposures, darkframes applied, captured from tripod).