Physics Photo of the Week

December 1, 2006
Astronomy from Craggy Pinnacle.

Pleiades photo by Gia Campanella
On November 16 recently the Warren Wilson Astronomy class travelled to Craggy Pinnacle Parking Lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway to view stars from a high elevation far away from the city lights.  The elevation at the parking lot for the Craggy Pinnacle Trail is 5,640 ft above sea level.  Both the high elevation and the dark region greatly enhances the visibility of stars - especially faint stars.  Gia made this photograph of the Pleiades with an inexpensive digital camera using only a single frame and a 15 second exposure.

The Pleiades is a star cluster visible with the un-aided eye during the late fall and early winter months.  One usually must use averted vision to see the cluster.  On the mountain tops in Western North Carolina, the Pleiades are plainly visible.  The Pleiades star cluster is one of the brightest of thousands of star clusters in solar neighborhood in the Milky Way Galaxy.  All the stars in the Pleiades were all formed at the same time about 100 million years ago.  This is quite young for stars.  The Sun is about 4 billion years old.  The Pleiades' stars are not only young, but very large.  The brightest stars being several hundred times brighter than the Sun.  Large, young stars are much hotter than the Sun - notice the bright bluish color to the Pleiades.

The Pleiades were featured in a Physics Photo of the Week for April 14, 2006 as the Moon occulted the stars in the Pleiades one-by-one.
An extensive article on the Pleiades may be found at the website:

On the same trip to the Craggy Mountains, Joe took this picture of Orion rising in the east.  Notice the three stars in Orion's belt and the three star-like objects to the right of Orion's belt.  The middle star of  to the right of the belt is the famous Orion Nebula.  The Orion nebula is a marvelous object to be viewed in small telescopes.  See Physics Photo of the Week for Feb. 20, 2004.

Orion photo by Joe Davis-Lockhart
The photo at left is most of the class.  Due to the darkness, it was difficult to get everyone in the photo.  Also the flash temporarily blinded the participants because their eyes had become dark-adapted to view the dark skies.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature an interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to

Click here to see the Physics Photo of the Week Archive.

Observers are invited to submit digital photos to: