Stunning Milky Way Time-Lapse Video: “Ancients”

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 25 2014 7:45 AM

Stunning Milky Way Time-Lapse Video: “Ancients”

Milky Way and Venus
The Milky Way and Venus set over the Chilean Atacama Desert.

Photo by Nicholas Buer, from the video

Regular readers know I love me some time-lapse video of the sky. I stumbled across a very cool one recently, and it’s well worth the 2.5 minutes of your time: “Ancients,” by photographer Nicholas Buer, the same man who made “Spirits,” a magnificent video about aurorae. “Ancients,” though, stars a significantly more distant target …

[Make it hi-def and full screen, then watch in awe.]

Advertisement

Buer filmed this in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the darkest sites on Earth. That really shows in the video; the Milky Way is much brighter and more detailed than you usually see in these videos. You can really trace out the dark dust lanes, regions of the galaxy choked with clouds of complex organic molecules that block the light from stars behind them.

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!  

He also had some excellent timing: Venus was near the galactic center in the sky, so it burns like a beacon against the fainter cosmic light—an illusion to be sure; that galactic glow is the combined might of a hundred billion stars, reduced to a milky sheen by the terrible distances to even the nearest stars.

At the 30-second mark you can see Venus setting below the Milky Way’s central bulge, and an odd white glow around it. That’s zodiacal light, sunlight reflected off tiny particles of dust left behind by comets as they orbit the Sun. The comets responsible have short-period orbits, and stick pretty much to the same orbital plane as the planets. We’re in that plane, so we see it projected as a thick slab in the sky—though due to the geometry of dust scattering the sunlight looks more wedge-shaped.

At 55 seconds the Magellanic Clouds appear, the satellite galaxies to the Milky Way, invisible to most of the Northern Hemisphere. At 1:30 he zooms in on the Large Magellanic Cloud, and I literally gasped when I saw it. The detail is magnificent. That object is about 170,000 light years away, far, far outside our galaxy, but it shows up clearly in the video!

He ends the video with shots of the local geology, and that only makes me want to visit that region even more. I had a chance last year for the inauguration of the wonderful ALMA observatory, but to my chagrin the timing didn’t work out for me. I hope that it didn’t turn out to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime things; from just this video I can tell that Atacama is a place I very much want to see myself.

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
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  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. 21 2014 10:10 AM Where Do I Start With Sleater-Kinney?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 9:39 AM The International-Student Revolving Door Foreign students shouldn’t have to prove they’ll go home after graduating to get a visa.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  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.