Awesome timelapse video: Rapture

By Phil Plait | November 1, 2010 6:00 am

Tom Lowe is an amazing photographer who makes devastating, astonishing timelapse videos of the night sky. Once again, he does not disappoint. Here’s your must-see video of the day: Rapture.

TimeScapes: Rapture from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

Make sure it’s set to HD, make it full screen, and turn your speakers up. I suggest letting the video buffer get well ahead, too, so it doesn’t skip.

Rapture is a paean to the American Southwest, one of my favorite regions on the planet. But the video’s loaded with gorgeous, sensuous astronomical skyscapes as well. Tom takes time exposures long enough to register faint night sky objects, but at the same time uses slow tracking to move the camera. The superposition of the ground and sky motion is simply mesmerizing. The music by Nigel "John" Stanford is incredibly compelling, too.

How many deep-sky objects can you identify in the video? The Andromeda Galaxy makes a brief appearance, and when the hub of the Milky Way slides across the sky, it’s awesome to behold.

Tom is the real thing. You should also check out his "Death Is the Road to Awe", a similar timelapse video.

Simply incredible. There is such beauty out there, and such gifted artists who can capture it and show it to us.

My thanks to Tom for giving me the heads-up on this. Follow him on Twitter for more information about his amazing work.


Comments (70)

  1. Thank you! Again, a great way to start the week.

  2. bigjohn756

    Great! I could watch it again and again. No, wait, I already did watch it again and again, and I’m sure I’ll do it again and again.

  3. Bad Wolf

    I just re-read “Contact” by Carl Sagan and while I was watching this video the word “Numinous” kept coming back to me.

  4. Chris

    Lovely. Can anyone point me to where Andromeda is on the video?

  5. Cosmonut

    I lived in Santa Fe for 2 years and went driving/hiking virtually every weekend.
    This brought it all back. Amazing !

  6. DrFlimmer

    This is just awesome. But to make it even more awesome: Something like this should be shown in a cinema! Big screen and great sound. THAT would be great!

  7. TechBear

    I love Lowe’s work. This was the perfect start for the week. Thank you.

  8. Nukescientist

    You should check this video too. Very similar to Tom’s.

  9. vimeo is so slowwwwwww !

  10. Pouria

    @DrFlimmer I concur! First thing that popped into my head was “IMAX would do this justice” (well, right after “this looks so photoshopped, *snark*snark*”


  11. Folks, this is my back yard. Sometimes, when my home state lawmakers are trying to eliminate the 12th grade rather than raise taxes to better fund the schools, I wonder why I live here.

    Then I go outside at night.

  12. Whoa. Beautiful. Very talented camera work!

  13. AJ in CA

    Awesome! And I mean that in the conventional, as well as the colloquial, sense :)

    One thing I’m wondering – several shots appear to show stars in the sky during daylight (not just twilight, but with the sun casting shadows). Is this moonlight that just appears brighter due to long exposure times, or is it actually possible to capture stars in the daytime without local light sources drowning them in glare?

    I love how clear the hub of the galaxy is. It really gives you a sense of scale beyond the imaginary “starry vault”. Where I live, there’s so much mist and light pollution, you can only see the brightest stars and planets :(

  14. AJ in CA

    #4 Chris: I was wondering about that too. I don’t know where Andromeda appears relative to the Milky Way, though. Could it be that smudge in the upper center/right at 1:59?

  15. Chris Winter

    Truly awesome! What does the plinth with the Japanese characters say?

  16. Lila

    Woooooooow. Oh I just love this.

  17. Wow, what a great video. Very well done. Thanks for posting.

  18. Christine P.

    Just gorgeous! I especially liked the balloon launches.

    #14 AJ – I’m pretty sure that those were nighttime exposures. Since moonlight is reflected sunlight, you get a blue tinge to the sky. The bright light source that appears is the moon, not the Sun.

  19. AJ in CA

    @19: That makes sense. There’s the one scene at 1:24 under a stone arch where it looks like you get a glimpse of the sun, even as there are stars to the upper right. I guess the moon and sun are famously about the same size in the sky, after all, so I can see how sun-like it might look at super-long exposure times… Uber cool :)

  20. After watching this and the others on their official site, I realize how much I miss seeing the Milky Way in the sky at night. Cant wait to get back to my small, not so light pollutioned town in PA and look up!

  21. @Chris Winters, that monument with Japanese text is all that remains at the WWII Japanese internment camp at Manzanar.

  22. Stanley
  23. Jim

    As an East Coast private pilot, I’m really wondering if anyone can tell me what the hell those funky, dangerous looking cloud formations are…other than harbingers of extreme turbulence.

  24. Anchor

    @ #24, Jim: That’s a stack of lenticular (‘lens-like’) clouds. They usually show up as a single layer, often forming over some elevated topography such as a mountain as a laminar air layer with a certain moisture content flows over the obstacle to condense into a cloud at higher altitude. Lenticular clouds typically seem to remain in place or perched over a mountain yet they are constantly replenished by the airflow, like the stationary wake of a pillar in a flowing stream. Most such lenticular formations are best understood as such ‘standing wave’ phenomena.

    Although formations like this one certainly look imposing, they’re generally not all that turbulent; they’re rarely this spectacular in the vertical stacking. Any turbulence they pose typically happens when crossing the boundary from one laminar layer to another, the severity depending on the relative flow velocities and one’s speed and heading with respect to it when entering or leaving. It would be rare to find one as turbulent as, say, the interior of a good cumulus cloud with strong vertical growth. Still, one can often be surprised by interacting layers or flows that are invisible: clear air turbulence bring surprises fairly often. Once passed a boundary between two different flows and in another layer, all is generally smooth going.

  25. Yeebok

    This is cool Phil. Thanks for the up – however I’ve noticed when you include Vimeo videos on the blog they do not play for me using Firefox 4 beta6 on W7x64. The videos play fine on the Vimeo site itself, so I am mentioning it in case it’s to do with how you’re linking.

  26. Dan

    Great footage and wonderful images of nature and celestial wonder in the Southwest, but the shots of rodeos, cowboys and hot air balloons were gratuitous and overly general, thematically. Lose the balloons and the cowboys, Tom.

  27. Paul

    IMAX *did* do this back in 1985. See ‘Chronos’, one of their fantastic early movies.

  28. Just to clarify some confusion, the night shots are not done through long-exposure, they are achieved using a combination of high ISO, with a VERY VERY low aperture lens.

  29. AJ in CA

    The fast-motion balloons were kinda cool, but yeah, the bits with the cowboy and the dancing girls really stuck out – “one of these things are not like the others”-ish

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat video. :-)

    Minor point but the title has less than ideal echoes for me.

    The word ‘rapture’ is a nice one – or at least it used to be, before I heard of the whole notion of the Rapture held by some wingnut Christian groups where Jesus takes the faithful off the planet whilst the rest of us are “left behind” for God & the anti-Christ to torment and slaughter up to Armageddon & the Second Coming. Now I find it hard to hear the ‘rapture’ word and not think of a particularly nasty strand of religious craziness. Sigh. :-(

    What alternatives are there – bliss? Jubilation? Ectasy?

    Hmm .. that last one has other connotations now too. 😉

    Oh well, great astro-video of the wheeling stars (plus more) anyhow. :-)

  31. 37. AJ in CA Says: “…the bits with the cowboy and the dancing girls really stuck out – “one of these things are not like the others”-ish”

    I thought I was the only one with that reaction (and the two people on top of the mesa, and the bear).

    The “New Horizons” dirigible coming in to land at Moffett Field at night was really cool, too.

    – Jack

  32. Buck Foss

    This is a modern take on a fantastic film from the 80’s called Koyaanisqatsi – Life out of Balance. If you like this, check out that film – it is one of my favorites. No words, a sound track by Phillip Glass that precisely matches the spectacular images on the screen, and remarkable photography. I am so glad to see this type of art returning – it is powerful and amazing.

  33. Roberto Santos

    No cabe duda, la naturaleza es maravillosa y lo que el ser humano puede hacer es increible !

  34. Thanks so much for this. I lived in Arizona for 14 years and the most spectacular site I ever saw was the view of the sky around 3am when I was camping in the Grand Canyon in 1995. The stars in the moonless sky at 7000 feet above sea level (and at least 50 miles from streetlights) were so dense and vivid, I felt like the Earth had disappeared and I was walking through the Milky Way (which, in fact, we are). Sometimes when I think of that vision I start to tell myself my memory of it is enhanced by my romantic imagination, but when I see a video like this, I realise that what I saw was totally real. Thank you for the beautiful video.

  35. Dean Fox

    Rapture, awesome film, loved it, but surely a disappointment to Christian fundamentalists expecting a video of people being taken up to heaven before the tribulations. :-)

  36. Phil says

    Not a disappointment at all: this was too good to feel that way.

    Maybe if you got to know some Christian fundamentalists you might be pleasantly surprised. It takes an enquiring mind to go past modern stereotypes. Seek and you shall find.

    Tom Lowe: I enjoyed the photos a great deal, thankyou very much.

  37. irk

    What’s with the friggin bear?

  38. jerry

    I was JUST at the road in Joshua tree where he took the video with the boulders. Wow.

  39. A.S.

    This guy’s got NOTHING on Ron Fricke. Baraka, anyone???? C’mon….

  40. Ephoph

    I believe this video is the answer to philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous question:
    “What would it have looked like if it had looked as if the Earth turned on its axis?”

  41. This is a great video.

  42. et w/VEX

    Thanks for the find, Phil…….Mr. R. Stephens liked this one too…..

  43. Charles Scheid


  44. Jon M. Krupp


    Have to go watch it again, now that I have picked my jaw up off the floor.

  45. jonny Bricolage

    Beautiful. Thank you!


  46. Peter M

    Stunning!! Our earth truly has so many natural and man made wonders to behold. Side note: mute the video and play “Ruled by Secrecy” from Muse. I thought it was better hahaha

  47. amazing video. i hope all new artists make videos like this… congrats

  48. Airi

    Amazing… Just stunning

  49. Bearski

    i liked the time lapse of the two drunk girls dancing at least….

  50. You can see a UFO in the sky between 1:43 and 1:48. All the other stars are standing still, but one individual star makes his way across the night sky from left to right, then stops or vanishes. Beautiful video!


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