Weird Things I Saw in the Dark:
2023 in Night Sky Photos

Ghost Dawn

factory smokestacks under a starry night sky crossed by a vivid Milky Way and streaked with glowing green light

Green airglow and the Milky Way cross the eastern sky over Bodie, California on July 15, 2023 | Credit: ©2023 Bill Dunford | Full-size image and downloads

The abandoned mining town of Bodie, California pulses with the passing of specters both visible and otherwise. When you picture a town in a western movie, this is it — saloons, gunfights, tales of boom and bust. If any ghost town is populated with actual ghosts, it’s Bodie. The Standard Mill seen here was built in 1877, and like the rest of the town it still stands due the diligent work of conservationists who keep Bodie in a state of “arrested decay” as part of a state historic park.

It’s illegal to walk the streets of Bodie after dark, but I had the privilege of being part of a workshop with special permissions.

The green streaks stretching across the eastern sky were something exceptional. They were the most striking example I’ve ever seen of the phenomenon called airglow, which occurs when molecules high in the upper atmosphere, excited by sunlight during the day, shed their excess energy throughout the night. Maybe you can relate. Have you ever shivered at the mere memory of an electric moment?

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like...

an old wooden building with large windows in front at night under a starry sky

An abandoned hotel and pool hall in the ghost town of Bodie, California | Credit: ©2023 Bill Dunford

According to historians, a saying among miners was, “Good-bye God, I'm going to Bodie,” and it was only partly a joke. At its peak in the late 1800s, the town housed a population of about 10,000 and was home to more than 60 saloons and dance halls.

Midnight Mass

an old wooden church at night under a starry sky

The Andromeda galaxy (center right) rises over a church on July 15, 2023 | Credit: ©2023 Bill Dunford | Full-size image and downloads

They did a lot of sinning in Bodie, but I'd like to think their prayers were still able to rise through such clear skies. Back then, most nights were dark enough to see the Milky Way. Now we have to strike out for the desert to seek the stars.