Zooming in on Orion’s Stellar Nursery

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Jan. 28 2014 7:45 AM

Zooming in on Orion’s Stellar Nursery

Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula, one of the galaxy's most magnificent sights

Photo by Isidro Villó, from the video

Well, this is just a slice of coolness: Isidro Villó, a professor of physics in Spain, with help from David Henarejos and Juan Antonio Albaladejo, built a mechanical system that will automatically control the zoom of a big photographic lens, allowing him to make an actual optical zoom time-lapse video. For his first project, he chose the magnificent Orion Nebula as his target. Watch:

Lovely! What you’re seeing is the one of the closest, biggest star-birth factories in the galaxy, so huge and bright that even from about 1,300 light years away it’s visible to the naked eye, appearing as a star in Orion’s “dagger.” I’d describe it in detail, but I’ve written about it eleventy billion times. I like how you can see satellites moving through the field of view, too. Those are probably geosynchronous satellites, which move very slowly (if at all) across the sky due to the geometry of their orbits.

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I’ll admit I’m drooling over the Sigma 50-500 mm lens he used! That’s nice. You don’t usually see zooms in time-lapse videos unless they’re done afterward, digitally (by taking a sub-section of a much larger image and showing it full-resolution, blowing it up). Villó actually used an optical zoom, with the lens itself magnifying the image. At the end of the video he shows the mechanism at work. Very clever.

I suspect we’ll see more of this as time goes on; photographers who make these kinds of videos tend to jump on new tech like this. I can think of a ton of uses for it, so I imagine photographers will have even more ideas. I do love time-lapse videos of the night sky, and with better and more clever tech, it’s inevitable we’ll see even more spectacular videos.

Tip o’ the lens cap to Manu Arregi Biziola.

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

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