Time-Lapse: The Rise of the Milky Way

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 13 2013 12:06 PM

Time-Lapse: The Rise of the Milky Way

The rise of the Milky Way
About 100 billion stars loom over the telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Video screenshot courtesy of Stéphane Guisard

Here it is, your moment of Zen: the Milky Way rising majestically over the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

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!  

This time-lapse video was taken by Stéphane Guisard, whose photos have been seen on this blog many times before (see Related Posts, below). Guisard used a wide-angle fish-eye lens to capture the whole sky. Around the bottom are the various telescopes comprising the Very Large Telescope array (each an 8.2-meter behemoth), and you can see the domes moving as they target various astronomical objects.

Advertisement

The Milky Way steals the show here. We live in a vast disk galaxy, 100,000 light-years across. But we’re not in the center; we’re very roughly halfway from the center to the edge of the disk. That means when we look toward the constellation of Sagittarius, we are looking toward the center of the galaxy—like someone who lives halfway to the northern edge of Manhattan can face south to look “downtown.”

The central bulge of the galaxy rises right to the zenith, and the flat disk, seen edge-on, bends due to the weird optical effect of the lens Guisard used. The disk is littered with gas clouds and spotted with darker clouds of thick dust that block the light of stars behind them.

Two satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, rise to the upper left as airplanes streak across the frame. My favorite part, though, is right at the end, when coming in from the upper right you can see a faint shaft of light pointing toward the center of the frame. That’s zodiacal (pronounced Zo-DIE-ah-cull) light, sunlight reflected by dust shed from comets in the solar system. Like the Milky Way itself, those particles form a flat disk that we see edge-on, so it looks like a line across the sky. It’s very faint, and you need really dark skies to spot it at all.

I’ve never been to Paranal, but someday I hope I will. I can only imagine how incredible the view must be from down there.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.