Perseids, writ large

By Phil Plait | August 25, 2009 7:00 am

The Earth has left the Perseid meteor stream behind, but last week’s display was caught by many a photographer. This video, however, is the best I’ve seen. I’ve embedded it below, but you really want to go to the Flickr page to see it embiggenated. Click the HD button on the video to see it in even more spectacular high-def!

Wow. You can see airplanes whizzing around, but the meteors tend to all come from one spot in the sky (in the lower center of the video). That’s because the Earth is plowing through them in space, so they all come from one direction, like driving through a tunnel makes all the lights appear to come from directly ahead of you.

You can see the Milky Way cutting vertically across the images, and to the right you can also spot the little fuzzy that’s the Andromeda Galaxy. The sun Moon rise cuts this video short, which is too bad. I’d love to see a much longer version of this!

[Update: Duh, I should’ve known that was the Moon rising and not the Sun. This video was shot around the same time locally as when I was out looking at the meteors, and the Moon was causing me grief too.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (24)

  1. Kewl, but who is Percy, and why should we care about his ID?

    (Unless he’s been hanging out with the Krell!)



  2. Mike

    Heads up! Google has a relevant doodle today.

  3. The perseids were pretty good this year, the best in several years, at least as seen from lovely Pasadena-in-the-Smog. Several really nice fireballs on the peak night.

    And for once the neighbor turned his @%#@^#!!! light off, so I could actually look up without being blinded.

  4. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Great if very short clip there, BA. Thanks! :-)

    Did you happen to observe any Perseid meteors yourself Dr Plait?

    (Sadly, too far north & cloudy anyway here in South Oz for me. :-( )

    PS. Sorry this is a bit off topic here but, BA, did you happen to get my email(s) about the 20th anniversary of the Voyager II fly-past of Neptune back on August 25th 1989? I sent you a “Nine Neptunean facts” article idea to commemorate the occassion. Now I don’t mean to pester you (honest!) but I’d just love, love, lurve to see you post something about that event. Afraid I don’t have a blog of my own to post stuff like that on & am trying to help with science education a little. Pretty please with a Nereidean ice cube in Neptunean tequila on top? ūüėČ

    – StevoR a.k.a Steven C. Raine

  5. I was going to submit this to Digg, but it’s already there:

    I noticed that you can still see most stars after the sun rises. I didn’t know that was possible. Probably helps to be out west to see that happen…

    I know that it’s a good idea (compositionally speaking) to have a foreground object in your shot, but I think having the radiant blocked by the bush (or whatever that is) didn’t help. I’ll make a mental note of this when I attempt this shot in the future.

  6. Chris

    Anyone have any idea where this is???

  7. NilsK

    That’s a very cool timelapse clip! But are we sure the presumed perseids are not (almost) all airplanes? At such long exposures and/or frame intervals, I’d expect individual meteors to be visible on only one frame, yet they seem to be moving across the screen at airplane velocities…

    Edit: I just saw the HD version and there are indeed some nice one-frame streaks that I didn’t see on the low-res clip! Great work!

  8. Kevin

    Man, very awesome. Wish I could have seen them. Hard to see anything in the sky in DC.

  9. Tony

    Something not right here as Richard noted. Not only can you see stars but also The Milky Way after sunrise. Not in my experience on this planet. Two videos superimposed. I think the meteor sequence was taken well before sunrise, the radiant being fairly low, and sunrise added later. I saw the Milky Way once from Queens New York. It was during the blackout of 1977. Nice video anyway.

  10. Len

    Love it.
    My favourite part of this vid is seeing the milky way move across the sky, it gives it a (probably false, but still beautiful) sense of depth. There was a similar video posted a few weeks back.
    If anyone has any links to similar stuff i’d apreciate it.

  11. Tony, Richard: In places where it is very dry and/or high altitude the stars are visible for much longer in to the morning. Might explain how far in to dawn this video goes. Anyone know where the images were taken?

    (I’m in Florida, there’s so much wet atmosphere here it’s hard to make out the milky way at midnight on the clearest of winter nights without some gear).

  12. Growing up in a not-yet-light-polluted area of New Mexico, I loved my annual Perseid viewing with my dad in the back yard. I haven’t even seen the stars in years, though, ever since I moved away… even when I visit home, there’s far too much light pollution in my parents’ neighborhood.

    I feel like we as a species are getting disconnected from the rest of the universe, and that we’re running the risk of losing our sense of wonder about what else is out there. The night sky has turned into a niche interest, and that makes me sad.

  13. Laura

    This is awesome. It was cloudy for the two prime viewing nights where I live so I didn’t catch ’em. Not that I could literally catch them. Ouchies.

  14. cpt Jameson Lave de Reorte

    In Holland we had a display of a ‘big’ meteor in the skies that was seen from many places.

  15. Man, this is great. I wish I could get it on a loop to have as a screen-saver. Thanks for the clip, Phil!

  16. Lazlo

    The Flickr page says it was shot in the eastern Sierras. But Andromeda isn’t anywhere near that position in the sky during the summer, is it?

  17. Lazlo

    After further research (okay, basically hacking around in Stellarium), given where all the constellations are in the sky when the sun rises, I don’t see how this could have been shot any later in the year than early May or so. Anyone else want to check my work on this?

  18. Thanks for the great reponse to my video. I shot this timelapse sequence at an elevation of 10,000 feet in the White Mountains on the California/Nevada border. The bright object which rises orange on the right side behind the smoke is the moon.

    The video was assembled from 124 still images taken on a Canon 5D mark II camera over the course of an hour.

    As noted, the best way to see the meteors falling vertically and to tell them from the airplanes (most flying horizontally) and the satellites is to go to the video on my Flickr photostream and ensure that you enable the HD display:

    I’ll try to post technique notes on my blog shortly, after I complete more of my timelapse videos from the Perseid event.

    Jeff Sullivan

  19. Lazlo

    Aaah, the moon makes a lot more sense. Nicely done!

  20. Chip

    At the very beginning of the clip, moving too fast for a banking jet, is the image of a Perseid seeming to turn an optical illusion?

  21. To add a bit more science context to this annual event, debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle in its previous passes through the earth’s orbit causes the annual Perseid Meteor Shower in early August. Events such as this may be tied to the appearance of life on this planet. More than seventy varieties of amino acids have been found in meteorites, and tests imply that they may withstand impact events:
    Hitchhiking Molecules Could Have Survived Fiery Comet Collisions With Earth
    There was a talk recently at U.C. Berkeley on how material from space has influenced life on earth:
    Astronomy and Evolution: From the Death of the Dinosaurs to the Stardust in your Bones

    Jeff Sullivan

  22. Chip,

    Bear in mind that this is a timelapse video, so in playback as video everything is dramatically sped up. Each frame is a 30 second shot, but the video is assembled at a relatively slow frame rate of only 12 shots per second. In other words, each second of the video displays ten minutes of shooting time. Apparently our eyes and minds are quick enough for us to perceive the meteors with some persistence even though they show up for only 1/12th of a second.

    Anything that travels across the screen or survives in the video for more than a brief flash is a jet or satellite (and you can’t see many of the meteors in most online copies of the video, unless you follow the links to Flickr and enable the highest HD playback available there). I’ll try to find video hosting sites that enable blogging of copies that offer higher resolution playback, preferably full 1920 x 1080 HD. I’ll also try to find some nice background music avalable under the Creative Commons CC-BY license (which does not seem to be a trivial search).


  23. Chip

    Jeff – Thanks for the good advice.

    I think my experience outdoor observing meteors appearing very briefly misled me into thinking the video was close to real time.


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