A Glorious Time-Lapse of the Sky Over a National Park

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 5 2014 9:30 AM

Time-Lapse: Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon
The Sierra Nevadas provide a stunning foreground for the night sky over Kings Canyon. Click to upliftenate.

Photo by Gavin Heffernan

Photographer Gavin Heffernan likes to go unusual out-of-the-way places to take pictures of the night sky—like Borrego Springs, Death Valley, and Grand Canyon National Park.

His recent trip to Kings Canyon, nestled next to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in south-central California, yielded some majestic footage. The combination of dark skies, magnificent scenery, and Heffernan’s experience in night-sky time-lapse photography yielded a truly lovely video, made even more enthralling with the addition of some unusual but appropriate music. You should really make this full screen to get it in all its breathtaking glory.

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I love the dramatic turn to the music as the camera pushes in to Polaris at the one-minute mark, and I can watch the Milky Way roll past mountains like that for a long, long time. A favorite moment: When a fireball, a very bright meteor, flashes in a pair of frames at 2:22, and somehow he got a musical sting to go with it.

The Milky Way really is amazing in these shots. You can see dense clots of stars, willowy, filigreed dust clouds, and bright nebulae and stars punctuating the central bulge of our galaxy. Airplanes and even satellites criss-cross the frame, and if you look carefully you can even see geostationary satellites hovering in the same part of the sky even as the stars sweep past them. I love it when those are captured in time-lapse videos.

Heffernan also made an enjoyable behind-the-scenes video, which includes a fair-to-middlin’ close encounter with a brown bear. I strongly urge you to check out the high-res stills he has online from this trip, as well as his other videos. It’ll be time well spent.

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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