In the age of the Hubble Space Telescope, and ever larger earthbound scopes being build, many people are of the impression that one needs costly equipment to enjoy the night skies.

Nothing is further from the truth. Reality, however, is that occasions at which one can observe the stars and planets are sparse due to urban light pollution. Tommaso has blogged about this issue before (see: The Continuing Search For A Dark Site).

Those who have never seen the Milky Way with their own eyes, have a look at attached video. I think this comes as close as one can get to the real experience. No telescope was used. This timelapse shoot was taken by William Castleman with a normal camera with a fisheye lens to ensure coverage of (almost) the full sky.

Do not try this in your urban backyard: you need a really dark spot.

Click on the white 'four arrow button' in the right-hand corner for the best effect (full-screen view).

Following the nightfall, you will see stars and various constellations before the Milky Way becomes visible in full splendor. Not sure about the flashes appearing in the sky early in the video. Could be meteorites or airplanes. (Anyone?) The red lights at the horizon are red flashlights used by amateur astronomers when setting and checking their telescopes (video was taken at a 'Star Party').

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.