If you live in the northern hemisphere, far overhead during the summer and autumn months is the constellation Cygnus the swan. Sadr is the pulsating star in the middle and this constellation effectively marks an area more or less in the middle of the Milky Way so in this unique image taken only a few nights ago, you are looking directly towards the middle of the galaxy through the spiral arms.
The red dust is caused by dense clouds of Hydrogen gas which are heated by nearby stars which causes them to emit a reddish glow. These clouds of gas and dust collapse under gravity to form stars. This is how stars are made.
click to see a larger version on Flickr
This particular image was the first light test of some recent astronomy equipment acquisitions and unfortunately during the test, one of our neighbours left their security light on all night (they’ve gone on holiday and left it on day and night it seems…). This caused a rather nasty colour gradient in the image which before I could remove I had to learn some colour processing skills in Photoshop first!
It was also my first night using a (decent) APO refractor.
Stats: Orion ED80T CF (80mm APO), Astronomik CLS, 10 x 5 minute exposures at –25c.
(the original unprocessed version with the harsh colour gradient)