AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video!

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 8 2010 12:17 PM

AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video!

Regular readers know the phenomenal work of Stéphane Guisard: he takes astrophotos showing stunning, deep views of the sky (see Related Posts at the bottom of this entry). And he's done it once again: using a fish-eye (very wide angle) lens, he captured stunning video of the entire sky from Chile. You can see the whole thing on that link, or he's uploaded the video to YouTube:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


[I strongly urge you to set the resolution to its highest (1080p) and make this full-screen. Seriously.]

OK, this needs a wee bit o' explaining...

First of all this was taken on December 5, 2010, at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile. You can see the telescopes nearby. On Stéphane's page (and on YouTube), you can see the usual view where the sky appears as a circle, and the horizon wraps around. But what he did here is to "unwrap" the sky so it appears rectangular. It starts in the east on the left, goes through south, then west in the middle, then through north and back to east on the right. So you can see stars rising on the extreme right and left sides of the frame, moving toward the middle, and then down to the west. It takes a little getting used to!

The most obvious thing is the laser shooting up to the sky from the right-hand observatory; that's used to create artificial guide stars for the telescope, which aid the computers in reducing the effects of atmospheric turbulence (I wrote about this earlier, complete with magnificent picture). The beam looks curved because this was originally a distorted fish-eye picture and was unwrapped; straight things will look curved in unexpected ways.

The video starts at sunset and runs through sunrise. You can see the two Magellanic Clouds, dwarf companion galaxies to the Milky Way, in the center left. The wide streak of fuzz is the collected might of billions of stars from the Milky Way itself! And that bright "star"? It's not a star at all: it's Jupiter. And if your eyes are keen enough you'll spot Orion setting toward the end of the video; it comes in from the top just to the right of center; the fuzzy spot of the Orion Nebula gives it away.

Some bonuses: did you spot the Andromeda galaxy briefly peeking out between the two telescopes on the right side? How about the Pleiades on the right? Also, that diffuse glow of light pointing from the sunset to Jupiter at the start of the video is zodiacal light: sunlight reflected back to Earth from floating interplanetary dust particles. Incredible.

Sigh. So pretty. This video has it all, and is just another example of what you can do if you're clever, patient, and have an eye for beauty.

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