AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video!

By Phil Plait | December 8, 2010 12:17 pm

Regular readers know the phenomenal work of Stéphane Guisard: he takes astrophotos showing stunning, deep views of the sky (see Related Posts at the bottom of this entry). And he’s done it once again: using a fish-eye (very wide angle) lens, he captured stunning video of the entire sky from Chile. You can see the whole thing on that link, or he’s uploaded the video to YouTube:

[I strongly urge you to set the resolution to its highest (1080p) and make this full-screen. Seriously.]

OK, this needs a wee bit o’ explaining…

First of all this was taken on December 5, 2010, at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. You can see the telescopes nearby. On Stéphane’s page (and on YouTube), you can see the usual view where the sky appears as a circle, and the horizon wraps around. But what he did here is to "unwrap" the sky so it appears rectangular. It starts in the east on the left, goes through south, then west in the middle, then through north and back to east on the right. So you can see stars rising on the extreme right and left sides of the frame, moving toward the middle, and then down to the west. It takes a little getting used to!

The most obvious thing is the laser shooting up to the sky from the right-hand observatory; that’s used to create artificial guide stars for the telescope, which aid the computers in reducing the effects of atmospheric turbulence (I wrote about this earlier, complete with magnificent picture). The beam looks curved because this was originally a distorted fish-eye picture and was unwrapped; straight things will look curved in unexpected ways.

The video starts at sunset and runs through sunrise. You can see the two Magellanic Clouds, dwarf companion galaxies to the Milky Way, in the center left. The wide streak of fuzz is the collected might of billions of stars from the Milky Way itself! And that bright "star"? It’s not a star at all: it’s Jupiter. And if your eyes are keen enough you’ll spot Orion setting toward the end of the video; it comes in from the top just to the right of center; the fuzzy spot of the Orion Nebula gives it away.

Some bonuses: did you spot the Andromeda galaxy briefly peeking out between the two telescopes on the right side? How about the Pleiades on the right? Also, that diffuse glow of light pointing from the sunset to Jupiter at the start of the video is zodiacal light: sunlight reflected back to Earth from floating interplanetary dust particles. Incredible.

Sigh. So pretty. This video has it all, and is just another example of what you can do if you’re clever, patient, and have an eye for beauty.

Related posts:

Incredible all-sky picture
The lines in the sky are stars
Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2009
Beam me up


Comments (39)

  1. Fredrik Arnerup

    Ok, now I now never to enter a pissing contest against an astronomer.
    They can reach the stars!!!

  2. Bobbar

    There’s just so much going on there! So many satellites!

  3. moregrey

    Awesome! What’s with the doors and windows (?) opening and closing on the telescope buildings? Is it some kind of temperature management?

  4. TDL

    Can someone explain why the laser is visible? Is there enough vapour/dust/smog/whatever in the air that a long exposure picks up some reflected light from it?

  5. Pfft, sure, the laser’s there for a guide. We all know that the laser is used to magnetize the chemtrails in the air, allowing them to interact with the vaccine heavy metals deposited in our bloodstream by the government to give us autism, allowing them to easily control us with wifi and cell phone radiation.

  6. WelshLad

    It looks amazing.
    That laser looks like it is zapping some alien spaceship in the sky. There is so much happening, that I need to see it a few times.

  7. TRL

    @TDL – you have answered your own question ūüėČ – The laser is extremely bright – it takes only a little bit of dust and particulates to scatter out a very tiny fraction of the light making the beam visible. You can see this yourself with a laser pointer on a dark night. The AO lasers typically have powers of a few watts, making them yet brighter by some three orders of magnitude or so. Also note that the exposures in the video are pretty deep, making the beam especially brilliant.

  8. Chris

    It looks like the telescope is going tinkle tinkle on the little star.

  9. Surrre… that laser’s being used to “guide” the telescope.

    Admit it, Phil. It’s shooting down alien space missiles, like in Missile Command!

  10. MadScientist

    The curve in the Na laser due to mapping from a wide-angle lens to a panoramic view reminds me of all those high school hydrodynamic competitions.

  11. Jean-Denis

    In any case, thanks to St√©phane for posting his videos without using Flash. My computer’s battery thanks him too.

  12. Joseph G

    Awesome!!! Now I also know who to thank for my Compiz skydome ūüėÄ
    I have a 360 degree panorama of that same observatory set as a skydome in Linux (basically, it wraps an image around the view it projects of a 3D cube that it makes of all your desktops, so it looks like you’re in the center of this panorama when you switch desktops – or all the time, if your background is translucent).
    Anyway, I was wondering who took that picture, but I can’t imagine it could have been anyone else than Mr. Guisard :)

  13. Tribeca Mike

    Best Missile Command session ever! Thanks.

  14. Fantastic! Thank you for sharing this, it made my day.

  15. Kez

    Tnx for this. Awesome. ^__^

  16. MarlowPI: Don’t encourage them!

    Stunning…I have watched it several times…I was so fascinated by the stars, I didn’t even notice the domes moving the first time!

    I have never been there, but I notice there seems to be at least three (maybe four) areas of sky glow I can pick out from cities. The brightest one is on the far left. Does anyone know what they are? Looking at a map and have some reference points would be nice.

  17. All in a night’s work. :) Beautiful!!

  18. AR

    That’s extraordinary. Thanks for sharing this.

  19. Crux Australis

    OK, I’m real sorry to be the one to point this out…but…I love how the laser beam is bent. It totally looks like the observatory is peeing!

    Once again, so sorry.

  20. QuietDesperation

    Here’s another one. There’s some non-astro bits, but it’s quite smashing. Noticew how the camera slowly moves as well, giving the illusion the timelapse is actually in real time.

    Soundtrack from the film “Inception” FTW! Go fullscreen and crank up the computer speakers. :-)

  21. Fernando1958
  22. Thameron

    It looks like the telescopes are talking to each other and commenting on what they are seeing. Rather like the robots in Silent Running.

  23. Pete Jackson

    Stunning imagery! Now everybody can see the spellbound beauty of the Southern Sky, which only those fortunate enough to travel to the observatories in Chile could see. Thanks, Phil, for pointing us to these.

  24. Gary Ansorge

    1. Fredrik Arnerup


    Ok, so, where’s Obi-Wan when you need him? That light saber looks way to big for me to battle.

    Thanks for that, Phil. Best moving panorama I’ve ever seen AND I got to watch some cool meteors indoors.

    Gary 7

  25. funny telescopes, looks like they argue about something that the first one tries to show them…
    really amazing! so many things on the sky, unfortunately a lot of that is trash that we sand in the universe…

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great clip. :-)

    @20. Crux Australis Says: OK, I’m real sorry to be the one to point this out

    Actually your’e not – well, you’re certainly NOT the first or only one to point that out anyhow. ūüėČ

    (Didn’t you see the very first comment here by Fredrik Arnerup or the ones by #9. Chris & #11.MadScientist?)

  27. Tony Miller

    Why are the double panels on the bottom of the telescope buildings opening and closing?

  28. sHx

    I couldn’t take my eyes off the two Magellanic Clouds. They look so close!

  29. Brilliant! I could watch it over and over again.

    I did notice that the laser light was casting a yellow glow on the adjacent telescope. It would probably wreck any deep photography going on. I presume they have some sort of protocol for when guide lasers may and may not be used?

  30. Michel

    Stunning! Took me a couple of times to see them all.
    I¬īll need a bigger monitor. Everytime you come up with the most beautiful things and then a 20″ is suddenly too small.

  31. I liked the buzz of human activity in the ‘scopes. The contrast in scales of time and space reminds me of *batteries not included.

  32. Michel

    @Alex Whiteside
    Yes indeed, the opening and closing of those big doors at ground level is intriguing. Why do they open and close? Cooling?

  33. Nice LMC you got there. It’d be a real shame if somethin’ happened to it.

  34. Jay

    This might have a really obvious answer that I’m missing, but it looks like the laser beam “ends”? How is this possible?
    Or does it really extend to ‘infinity’ and it’s just a trick of perspective that makes it look like it “ends” in mid-air?


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