Incredibly Lovely Time-Lapse Video of Weather and Stars Over La Palma

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Aug. 14 2013 11:00 AM

Gorgeous Canary Island Observatory Time-Lapse Video

la palma skies
The magnificent sky over the volcanic island of La Palma.

Photo by Daniel López, from the video

You know, this time-lapse video by Daniel López showing the weather and skies above La Palma (one of the Canary Islands and home to a world-class observatory) is so jaw-droppingly beautiful I almost don’t feel the need to comment on it. Almost.

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!  

(Make sure it's set to high-def and make it full screen. Turn up the volume, too.)

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But there are three short things I want to say.

One is how I love love LOVE the way the clouds flow over the mountain (actually, a huge volcano). It’s another reminder that air, and the clouds in it, are fluids. That’s easy to forget in our slower-moving human sensory world.

Another point is that you may have noticed several segments in the video where you can see stars reflected in huge, open telescopes that are sitting outside on the landscape. Those are called Magic, for Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov telescopes. They are 17 meters (50-plus feet) across, composed of hundreds of smaller, hexagonal mirrors. These telescopes look for faint flashes of blue light generated when subatomic particles from distant objects slam into Earth’s atmosphere. At high enough energies, these particles are moving faster than the speed of light through the air, creating an optical equivalent of a sonic boom.

I know what you’re thinking, but the speed of light in a vacuum is the ultimate cosmic speed limit. Through air or other substances, light slows down, but particles can still travel faster than that while still being slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. Anyway, I saw these telescopes years ago during a visit to La Palma, and they are grand machines, their highly-polished mirrors gleaming. They way they reflect starlight in the video is truly lovely. There are webcams trained on the Magic telescopes if you want to take a real-time peek.

And third, I was really struck by the music in the video. It reminded me of the Daft Punk soundtrack for Tron: Legacy (which I first heard in another astronomical time-lapse video recently). The music is by Epic Soul Factory, and I think I just found a new album to buy.

(Bonus thing to notice: Around 2:50, you see the Milky Way stretching up on the right next to an observatory dome and a bright, triangular patch of light beaming up from the horizon on the left [the picture at the top of this post is a frame from that part of the video]. That is the zodiacal light, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so bright in a photo or video before. Amazing.)

López has made two other time-lapse videos of the Canary Islands: “The Light of Stars” and “Canary Sky – Tenerife,” both of which are surpassingly beautiful. Go take a look.

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