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This stargazing photographer wants to inspire an end to light pollution

Most people alive today have never seen the Milky Way.

It’s a void that Matt Dieterich, a night sky photographer, has spent his life attempting to fill.

“Humans connect to the night sky, and it’s gone back for centuries,” he said. “As long as people have been around, we’ve wondered.”

When Dieterich took the photo seen above, he was working as an intern astronomy ranger in Mt. Rainier in 2015, educating visitors about the night sky. He used a Nikon D750 with a 24mm lens, a tripod and a shutter cable release. He took 200 photos, each on an eight-second exposure, and combined the backgrounds from each of those photos to form the photo’s backdrop.

The result is stunning: an image of stars in motion. The photo was just selected as a new Forever stamp to commemorate the centennial of the National Parks Service.

Dieterich’s fascination with the night sky has inspired him to become an art-driven activist against light pollution, which he says is “only getting worse as development continues in cities.”

“We can reclaim the night sky,” he said. “We can change the way we light cities. We can reclaim a resource that inspires science, that inspires religion and art.”

Dieterich, who is working now as a research geologist in West Virginia, said he hopes his photographs will encourage people to limit light pollution.

Dimming the lights at night and reconsidering the positioning of city lighting would help, he said. Bright lights aimed upward, such as at billboards, add to light pollution. So do lights that shine continuously instead of operating on a sensor, he said.

“My goal is to get folks outdoors. To get them involved to protect the night sky,” he said.

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