The Rise of the Milky Way

By Phil Plait | May 19, 2009 4:53 pm

This video of the Milky Way rising at the Texas Star Party is making the rounds. It’s quite lovely.

I’ve been getting emails and such asking if it’s faked. I don’t think so. It’s clearly an animation made of many several-seconds-long exposures, so that each frame sees the relatively faint Milky Way. I’ve never been to the TSP (I would love to go, but I always wind up having some other thing to do at that time) but I’ve heard it’s extraordinarily dark… some newbies even pack up to go home around 2:00 because they think the rising Milky Way is an approaching thunderstorm!

I’d dearly love to see that.

The best thing about this video is how clear it is that we live in the disk of a spiral galaxy. Compare what’s in that video to pictures of NGC 4013, NGC 4565 or NGC 891 to see what I mean. We live in a galaxy. That’s a profound statement, and the evidence is literally right there above our heads.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (81)

Links to this Post

  1. Sons of Loki » Milky Way above Texas | May 20, 2009
  2. Diary 5/21/09 | May 21, 2009
  3. Allergic Reality » Stars over Texas | June 17, 2009
  1. I there. I don’t know if you speak spanish, but here is an explanation of how the images were taken.

    In a few words: 15 mm. fisheye lens + 20 seconds-long exposure per image + hydrogen-alpha filter.

    I can’t say if those are the necessary elements to obtain such amaizing images, but I wonder you can.

    Best regards.

  2. I don’t understand why anyone would think it’s “faked” when the specs are right at the front:

    Canon EOS-5D (modified) and EF 15mm Fisheye Lens @ f/2.8
    Camera on Tripod Facing East South East
    20 second exposure each minute per frame
    15 seconds per frame

    Lovely work. Thanks for highlighting it.

  3. speaking as a resident of Kansas, which has some spectacular dark skies the further from Wichita to or Kansas City there is nothing out there and it does look like that even to the regular mark one eyeball, maybe not as clear of a definition but it’s clearly there.

    One of the many, many reasons I got a telescope as soon as I could afford my own.

  4. bassmanpete

    Heartachingly beautiful, thanks BA. Do you know if there’s anything similar from the Southern Hemisphere?

  5. Ryan

    I think the Southern hemisphere sees not only the Milky Way but also the Magellanic Clouds.

  6. Jasso

    “The best thing about this video is how clear it is that we live in the disk of a spiral galaxy.”

    I know this may be a nit-pick, but aren’t we in a barred spiral?

  7. MarkAH

    I think that’s 15 frames per second.
    Video is stunning

  8. oldamateurastronomer

    What a beautiful movie. The last few frames must have been the moon rising to obscure the sight of the MW.

    I never went to the TSP, but I wish I could have!!

    Gawd, I so wish I could go out again and see the Milky Way with my eyes again. My problems prevent such activity.

    I do so miss observing with my ‘scope!

  9. Magnificent time-lapse video. A guy on the Fark thread was (reasonably, I think) wondering if this was really real, and as a photographer I assured him there was nothing about it that screams “fake”. 20-second exposures at ISO 1600 is plenty enough to get such pictures of the Milky Way looking just like that. His skepticism came from the fact that he’s never seen it look like that, even though he lives under dark skies in the country. I think a lot of people don’t understand that we’ll never see it with our eyes the way it looks in pictures, simply for the fact that our eyes don’t take 20-second exposures! :-)

    Anyway, kudos to this photographer for a job well done. It takes a lot of patience, hard work and flawless execution (get one thing wrong, and you have to do it all over again some other night) to put together a sequence like that.

  10. So beautiful. I rarely get a good look at the Milky Way, even though I live in a very dark area being so far north it doesn’t rise very high above the horizon. Add mountains to that and it can be frustrating.

  11. literally right there above our heads.

    Assuming people have ever seen it or noticed it. I asked that very question not long ago and was kind of surprised at the answers.

  12. Etienne M.

    Wow. Just… wow.

  13. Somnolent Aphid

    I remember seeing the milky way as a kid in the 1950’s, outskirts of Chicago, when there wasn’t as much light pollution. The aurora as well. This was a fantastic video. Powerful stuff. Thank you.

  14. Guysmiley

    I don’t understand why anyone would think it’s “faked” when the specs are right at the front

    It was posted on Fark. You’ll not find a more wretched hive of trolling and ignorance.

  15. Len

    I think what makes it a little different is that the camera was modified to remove the IR filter that is normally there. That makes it more sensitive to wavelengths that would not normally show up on camera (or your eyes!).

  16. Ryan

    Stupid sun entered the field of view and ruined it.

  17. Justin

    I have family that built a cabin in Centerville, Texas; a little bit southwest of Fort Worth. I can personally attest to these pictures. I had the pleasure of staying the night there last year, and you can vividly see the Milky Way while you’re out there. Albeit that with the equipment used in this shoot it’s more vivid; you still see such an awe-inspiring sight whenever you get a chance to look up there after midnight.

    I’m heading back in June and I absolutely cannot wait!

  18. Gary Ansorge

    That is so FRAKING COOL!!! Now I just have to send a link to your site to everyone I know. Hope it doesn’t crash your servers,,,

    GAry 7

  19. I wish we could see it like this normally, that would be bad-ass…

    Amazing video…

  20. James

    Texas has some of the darkest skies anywhere way out west. It is so beautiful out there. If you get a chance to go to the Davis Mountains, I highly recommend it.

  21. MKremer

    @Jasso:I know this may be a nit-pick, but aren’t we in a barred spiral?

    According to modern observations, we are. However, viewed edge-on like this, I don’t think it at all matters whether the center is barred or not. Can you definitively tell whether the other galaxies Phil listed have barred centers or not?

  22. It’s official now. The Milky Way is my favorite thing in the night sky … nay, the sky.

  23. There are other cool videos like that on YouTube. I have some shots of the Milky Way I took at the 2001 and 2002 Texas Star Party. And here they are:

    2001: http://www.richardbell.net/astrophotos/deepsky/milkyway.html

    2002: http://www.richardbell.net/astrophotos/deepsky/milkyway2.html

    Would love to go back and take some shots with my DSLR. Digital wasn’t quite at the forefront then like it is today.

    p.s. See you next week, Phil!

  24. Geomaniac

    The Star Party rocks but the one time we went we were treated to partly overcast skies. :-(

  25. I totally did that! My first TSP was back in 1995. The Milky Way rose around midnight, and I thought it was something in the atmosphere reflecting a distant town. I said to the guy who went down with me, “Well crap! I thought this place was supposed to be dark! Might as well go back to the tent.” And he said, “Wait, maybe it’ll pass.” It took 15 long minutes of feeling disgusted before I could clearly see the shape of our rising galaxy and recognized it for what it was. It was so bright I felt I could read a newspaper by it.
    I couldn’t of course. Just a feeling of amazement. But it was a feeling I’ll remember the rest of my life.

  26. Greg in Austin

    Arrrgh! In some ways, I wish I lived 500 years ago. Everybody would see a sky like this every night for a lifetime.

    8)

  27. Magnificent time-lapse video. A guy on the Fark thread was (reasonably, I think) wondering if this was really real, and as a photographer I assured him there was nothing about it that screams “fake”. 20-second exposures at ISO 1600 is plenty enough to get such pictures of the Milky Way looking just like that. His skepticism came from the fact that he’s never seen it look like that, even though he lives under dark skies in the country. I think a lot of people don’t understand that we’ll never see it with our eyes the way it looks in pictures, simply for the fact that our eyes don’t take 20-second exposures! :-)

    Anyway, kudos to this photographer for a job well done. It takes a lot of patience, hard work and flawless execution (get one thing wrong, and you have to do it all over again some other night) to put together a sequence like that.

  28. Yes, Jasso, you are absolutely correct. That was nit-picky.

  29. Todd

    Absolutely beautiful. If you would like to know more about how the video was done, and download a much nicer video (133 megs), you can go here: http://www.wlcastleman.com/astro/tsp09/video.htm

  30. ccpetersen

    There are skies this dark and darker throughout the West. Which makes me glad we’re moving back there soon!

  31. MadScientist

    Ah, the green glow of mercury and the yellow glow of sodium. I like the skies as seen from the middle-of-nowhere on the other side of the planet; great seeing conditions, very little aerosol scattering, and if you’re in the right places absolutely no light pollution. The Milky Way is a brilliant band through the sky and there are these two glowing clouds which don’t seem to ever change shape and just sit in the same position in the sky. But that’s a great time lapse sequence nonetheless; you can’t blame the photographer for not having the best skies. :)

  32. MadScientist

    @bassmanpete: In the southern hemisphere you get a much prettier Milky Way, and if you’re far enough south you’ll see the Magellanic Clouds all year ’round.

  33. Jon Bastian

    Wow. You can actually see the disc and the dust and all that from down here? Damn this LA air and light pollution. We’re lucky if we can see the seven main stars of Orion.

  34. DorXtar

    Hey bad astronomy dude. God exists. Have a blessed day.

  35. Fish

    um.. thanks for that intelligent contribution Dorx…

    Here’s one in return, spagetthi monster exists and he wubs you, you are blessed with cheesy sauces.

  36. @Fish
    Heretic! Everybody knows that while the cheese makers are blessed one must only sprinkle the holy parmesan or pecorino over his tomatoey goodness. Cheese sauces are an abomination unto his noodley appendages.

  37. Todd Says: “If you would like to know more about how the video was done, and download a much nicer video (133 megs), you can go here: http://www.wlcastleman.com/astro/tsp09/video.htm

    Those of you with broadband must go IMMEDIATELY to that site and download the full size version. Not only is it as breathtaking as you can imagine, butI saw something in there that I haven’t seen anyone else mention yet. The site says that you can see satellites moving across the whole sky, but if you look closely, there are at least two that don’t move at all, at least in relation to the ground. About 1/3 of the way down from the top, about equally spaced either side of center, you’ll see two very dim spots that don’t move as the stars race past. They are, of course, commsats that shine at about 13th magnitude. There might be more, but I didn’t see any.

    – Jack

  38. Flying sardines

    The BA noted :

    We live in a galaxy. That’s a profound statement, and the evidence is literally right there above our heads.

    Meh. Not that profound. I mean where else would we live?

    Stars (& planets) aren’t very common outside of galaxies – it’d be far more unusual and exceptional (dunno about ‘profound’) if we didn’t live in a galaxy. If say our star had been torn from the Milky Way in a galactic collision and was orbiting freely in intergalactic space.

    Still Andromeda is on its way and that may yet happen although our Sun will be a red giant when it does … think I read that in a certain book about astronomical hazards sometime! ;-)

    Anyhow, awesome, magnificent video – lucky folks to have such dark skies! 8)

  39. Flying sardines

    @ Fish :

    Nice one. THX. :-)

    Mind you, personally, I’m hoping Aphrodite (Greek goddess of love) exists. Being “blessed” by her or Ishtar or Astarte .. now that has a certain extra appeal! ;-)

  40. Ben

    Here’s what part of it looks like with a 30mm lens and a Canon 50D:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fyngyrz/3496923734/

    And here’s a shot even closer, @ 200mm, same region:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fyngyrz/3464713125/

    All images taken from a stationary tripod with unmodified camera and lenses, no tracking. Enjoy, and be sure to click on “All Sizes” above the images for larger versions.

  41. bassmanpete

    @MadScientist, I’m in the Southern Hemisphere (Far North Queensland) which is why I asked about a similar video for down here. And I agree with you about the Milky Way being prettier here than in the Northern Hemisphere, having moved from there 26 years ago. We have the two Magellanic Clouds, and the Coal Sack is impressive because of the LACK of stars – in a dark sky it really stands out.

    A quick story – about 3 years after I emigrated to Oz my youngest sister & her husband came here for a holiday. They wanted to see the Little Penguins coming ashore in the evening on Phillip Island (until 6 months ago I lived in Melbourne.)

    On the way back from seeing the penguins I pulled into a picnic area car park (still on Phillip Island and well away from the lights of Melbourne) and told them I wanted to show them something. I turned off the lights, flicked the switch that stopped the internal lights coming on when the doors were opened and told them to wait for about a minute. We then got out of the car and I told them to look up. My only regret is that I didn’t have a recorder to tape their reactions! The gasps of awe, the expressions of wonderment just made my day.

    I would encourage any of you Northern Hemispherians (?) who want to see the Milky Way at its very best to add a visit to Australia (or New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) to your must-do-before-I-die list.

  42. Citizen of the Cosmos

    I have seen the Milky Way like that only once! Impossible to see it where I live now, but I remember when I did see it. The video is just amazingly beautiful. Wow.

  43. Jamie Mueller

    Question: Have any astronauts attempted to take pictures of the Milky Way from space (e.g. from Shuttle, or ISS)?
    I would imagine from that vantage point it would be much more impressive, no? (Yes I know Hubble does all the time, but not with such a wide field of view)

  44. @bassmanpete
    I was driving across the Nullabor once just after dark and we stopped for a break. You then know why it is called the Milky Way. The Hay Plain in southern NSW is another great spot if you’re ever driving around at night in Oz. High in the Andes, the Inca Trail, was memorable for star gazing too.

  45. bo

    i’m one of the people that emailed you to ask if that was faked. its too incredible to be real. it baffles me why people turn their eyes away from the sky nowadays.

  46. Anyone know: were those little streaks airplanes, or what? Loved the video, esp. the time-lapse effects.

  47. NGC3314

    For Jamie Mueller: Dpn Pettit did some shots with a digital camera during his Expedition 6 tour on ISS, including this one of the Milky Way around the Southern Cross: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-6/html/iss006e28028.html
    He built his own tracking mount to take out the station’s rotation during these exposures.

    Hmm – a film crew hired by our campus recently did a southern-hemisphere time lapse from Cerro Tololo. I gotta see that one of these days.

  48. ccpetersen

    We watched the Milky Way from shipboard for two weeks while rounding the southern tip of South America. Nature threw in a few aurorae, to boot! Stunning… just stunning.

  49. Doc

    Beautiful.

    Now if I could only get the yo-yos in my neighborhood to turn off their freakin’ flood lights at night.

  50. @Jack-

    My first thought was meteors. They’d only be in one frame and show up as a streak. A plane (with blinking clearance lights) would move across the sky in a few frames of the movie. Anyone else have any info?

  51. I love at the end how the brilliant blue of the morning sky blasts away the view of our sparkling galaxy, as if we’re awaking from a dream.

    Fortunately we can see it again the next night! (weather permitting)

    On that note, does anyone know of a night-after-night animation of the whole Milky Way? Can we watch the stars (or clumps of stars) revolving around the core, or is it too slow to capture in any reasonable length of time?

  52. Dave

    How can anyone can see the Milky Way from Earth when the Earth is part of the Milky Way? Is it just that at certain times, we are able to view the edge of our Galaxy from a point that allows us to see the largest collection of stars?

  53. @ Jack and Tom:

    Any chance the streaks toward the end of the video, which seem to be in the same “path,” would be satellites? As the sun is coming up, they might already be in sunlight.

  54. OH…MY…FSM!!!!

    An edit feature!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now I have 14 minutes and 22 seconds to go back and change all the stoopid stuff I said earlier.

    Wait…14 minutes 4 seconds.

    Oh, wait…13 minutes and 51 seconds… Damn!!!!!

  55. neutron

    Phil, this is TOO much. I can’t watch it without getting tears in my eyes!! And me, a cold-blooded, hard-hearted atheist!

  56. Tom Hill Says: “@Jack-My first thought was meteors. They’d only be in one frame and show up as a streak. A plane (with blinking clearance lights) would move across the sky in a few frames of the movie.”

    Yes, meteors would be a streak that only showed up for one frame. A series of streaks that move uniformly across the field are probably satellites (each streak being 20 seconds worth of its travel. Streaks that are not uniform (i.e. change speed or direction) would be airplanes.

    BTW, I have to take back what I said earlier about the communication satellites. I went back and watched the high-rez video again (several times, actually) and noticed the dim, unmoving dots in lots of different places. They couldn’t be commsats since they would all have to be in a row along the celestial equator. More likely artifacts of this particular camera. Dang!

    – Jack

  57. Pieter Kok

    Yes definitely download the high-res version, worth the 10 minute download.

    I have a question: I’m planning a trip to Death Valley, and I can find the moon rise times allright, but I can’t find the times when the milky way rises. Does anybody have link?

    Thanks in advance,
    Pieter.

  58. Greg in Austin

    Dave Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 10:26 am

    How can anyone can see the Milky Way from Earth when the Earth is part of the Milky Way? Is it just that at certain times, we are able to view the edge of our Galaxy from a point that allows us to see the largest collection of stars?

    Not all the things you can see in the sky are stars. There are other galaxies out there, too.

    But you are correct. As the Earth spins, it brings the center of the Milky Way (the most concentrated portion) into our view. Its like we’re on the ferris wheel, sometimes looking in toward the center, and sometimes looking out and away from the center.

    8)

  59. Andy Diamos

    As someone who does not live somewhere dark enough to see the night sky very well, my question is what would the gas/dust colored streaks look like without a filter? Does anyone have any pictures of that sort of thing? With any galaxy-related pictures, I’m always curious about what you can actually see with human eyes.

  60. bigjohn756

    I have watched this video only 12 times, so far. I went to the TSP several years ago. I can’t imagine why I haven’t gone since. It’s really good. The year I went I don’t think it was quite as clear as this but it was close. Lots of nice people, many excellent lectures and a dark sky, why can’t we do it every week?

  61. shirky

    this star party thing sounded nifty but the website implies that it is only for dudez (“bringing your spouse? check out activities for ladies”)
    any women been there? not as spouses…but as stargazers?

  62. Dan I.

    Ya know, this video ticked me off. Do you know why?

    BECAUSE WE DON’T GET TO SEE THAT ANYMORE.

    I mean LOOK AT THAT, that’s GORGEOUS. But there’s so few places in the U.S. where you can even see STARS anymore, much less THAT.

    @ Dave

    We can see it because we’re about 2/3 of the way out from the core I think. So what you’re seeing, I think, is essentially an edge on view in towards the core.

  63. @ brock:

    On that note, does anyone know of a night-after-night animation of the whole Milky Way? Can we watch the stars (or clumps of stars) revolving around the core, or is it too slow to capture in any reasonable length of time?

    It would be incredibly easy enough to photograph that! Just set your camera on a time lapse setting lasting, oh, a couple hundred million years. :)

  64. oh my God—it’s full of stars!

  65. Wendy

    That is so beautiful!!!!!

  66. shaun

    that’s beautiful. thanks!

  67. Milky Way: our mother

  68. Yep, it looks like that. I took the following photo at a TSP:

    http://www.keithwiley.com/pictures/astroPhoto/widefield/milkyWayMosaic.jpg

    One of the most incredible sights in the sky, second only to a naked eye Andromeda, five times larger than the moon, which really puts it all in perspective in my opinion.

  69. Ferdinand

    Wonderful! thank you so much!

  70. I have watched this video only 12 times, so far. I went to the TSP several years ago. I can’t imagine why I haven’t gone since. It’s really good. The year I went I don’t think it was quite as clear as this but it was close. Lots of nice people, many excellent lectures and a dark sky, why can’t we do it every week??

  71. chris

    Thank you for sharing. x

  72. will march

    Cool. I try not to think we are in a Galaxy. One because it makes me think of chocolate and two because it makes our existence seem so insignificant. No matter how much we confince ourselves that we are not alone, lets face it we probably are.
    Why is space infinite? Why is that important? My head hurts.

  73. Donald

    Pause the video at 42.5 seconds.

    Shows the sun pop into view half way.

    This is an awesome image of us on earth being able to see where the sun is positioned in milkyway.

    I never knew we were this far out from the galaxy center.

  74. Micro-quasar GRS 1915+105 picture is New results from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have made a major advance in explaining how a special class of black holes may shut off the high-speed jets they produce. The results suggest that these black holes have a mechanism for regulating the rate at which they grow. The study looks at a famous micro-quasar in the Milky Way galaxy and regions close to its event horizon — the point of no return.

    Pensive its mentioned the little serving as an example of my research results see into or see visions- http://www.100hoursofastronomy.org/photo-galleries/category/107-l

  75. eder

    Can anyone tell me another web site that has a time lapse with the milk way view from the southern hemisphere?

  76. Neshobe

    Late this summer, I camped my way across the continent and back, and rejoiced in being able to see the Milky Way again. On clear nights I opened my tent fly and watched the sky for hours. Just like the video, only in real time and with amazing ambience. Imagine the new moon setting with coyotes calling, and then the Milky Way… I need to move back to the open skies of the west.

    I grew up in a valley in southern Oregon, where the Milky Way was a routine part of the night sky. Disappointed that though the Vermont village I live in is small, and has a good view of the sky, I can see few stars at all, let alone the milky way– the village has highway style street lighting that obscures everything, including the auroras and lightning bugs!

  77. Jamotron

    @76 “No matter how much we confince ourselves that we are not alone, lets face it we probably are.”
    I don’t think you have probability going for you on that one. The sheer number of stars in the universe says it would be very very very unlikely that none of them other than ours had earth like planets supporting life orbiting them.

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