Stunning winter sky timelapse video: Sub Zero

By Phil Plait | March 28, 2011 11:06 am

I love all the time-lapse videos I’ve been seeing over the past few months. They show the night sky the way I see it: ethereal, mysterious, beautiful, and awe-inspiring.

Photographer Randy Halverson created this stunning video from images he took just last month in the bone-chilling winter of South Dakota. He calls it "Sub Zero". Make sure you’ve set it to show the HD version.

Amazing! I love how it starts with a Moon halo: the ring around the Moon as light from our satellite refracts through ice crystals in the air. You can see the familiar constellations of Orion and Taurus throughout the video, as well as stars like Sirius and the Pleiades cluster. Each picture was an exposure of several seconds, and in some, like the ones with the playground in the foreground, you see the blurring of terrestrial objects from the wind. [UPDATE: Randy just sent me a note; you can see animals moving in and out of the attic on the right side of the house in the playground shot. Raccoons? Well, something that can survive the temperatures. Ice warriors, probably.]

I remember when I was first dabbling in astrophotography when I was in high school. I took shots of the northern sky from my driveway, and when I developed them (yes, they were film and I used a darkroom and everything) I was deeply surprised to see the blue sky and well-lit houses and ground! But I quickly understood that these were long exposures, and any scattered light — street lights, Washington DC on my horizon to the northeast, and so on — would make these look more like daytime shots… even though you could see stars in the sky. Randy’s video (and others like it I’ve posted in the past; see Related Posts below) show the same effect. It looks like they were taken in the day, until you see the sky littered with stars.

And as much as I love big, splashy wide-angle shots of the night sky, the addition of a slowly moving viewpoint as the stars wheel overhead makes these videos even more enthralling. It’s hard to imagine a better way to show people the art and magnificence of what we see every night over our heads.

Video credit: Randy Halverson, used with permission.

Related posts:

Awesome timelapse video: Rapture
Orion in the Mayan skies
Sidereal motion
Time lapse: The spinning Chilean sky
AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (41)

  1. Awesome! I love it.

  2. Spectacular and beautiful timelapse.

  3. faith denise rossell

    spectacular…although i wished i could experience this in person…the video captured the glory…with gratitude and love…

  4. Tom

    Oh yeah, that’s what the winter skies look like. Astronomy in Seattle has been cancelled this winter.

  5. Jeff

    Very cool! You can see animals climbing up the left front corner post of the house too, right at the end of the playground scene.

  6. James
  7. Bob

    Wow! The odd thing for me, being from New Zealand is seeing all those familiar constellations upside down. Thanks for posting this!

  8. Steven Spray

    Wow that moon looks bright in the opening scene, great video!

  9. DrFlimmer
  10. Jenna

    That scene with the playground and the house was a little creepy. Animals climbing on the house and the swing jittering.

  11. katwagner

    I loved the house – colors were skewed towards very cool. Thank you for this!

  12. Dean

    Incredible!! Does anyone know the rig he used to position the camera? I can’t imagine he’d be able to shoot all these by hand and yet still have the video play so smoothly.

  13. Jon Hanford

    @12 Dean,

    Use Phil’s link to his Vimeo page for a full description of the hardware employed and other tech info for this video.

    According to his Vimeo posting, for ‘Sub Zero’ a Stage Zero dolly made by Dynamic Perception and a Milapse mount was used on most of the shots (and he includes a link to the Dynamic Perception website).

  14. Geert

    Amazing! And what a coincidence that today’s APOD is very similar: Time-lapse auroras over Norway, by Terje Sorgjerd, also on Vimeo. and

  15. bkallee

    Absolutely wonderful

  16. Pretty work!
    Check out for more georgeous time-lapse work!

    I did spot a little jiggery pokery going on, though, in the barn shot at 2:10. It’s running backward. The sky’s rotating the wrong way. Ursa Major is setting behind the barn and should be rising.

    Of course, time-lapse is all about jiggery pokery anyway…

  17. Messier Tidy Upper
  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    [UPDATE: Randy just sent me a note; you can see animals moving in and out of the attic on the right side of the house in the playground shot. Raccoons? Well, something that can survive the temperatures. Ice warriors, probably.]

    Or given the piece’s title maybe ice ninjas? Specifically this :

    character with supernatural control over ice and a propensity for ripping head and spines off his kills maybe? 😉

  19. marylyn cederberg

    I totally dig the abandoned houses in your vid!

  20. colluvial

    Stunning, indeed! Randy takes a landscape that most of us wouldn’t even remember if we drove through but, used as the frame for atmospheric and celestial events, produces a deep emotional quality. The abandoned houses and barn from another era lend it a lot of sadness. At least the buildings are used by other life (you can also see two raccoons (?) climbing up the porch pillar on the left side of the house at the end of the house sequence.)

  21. jearley

    If you look really carefully at the abandoned house at 52 seconds or so, you can see the camera moving out from the doorway on its track, shooting the previous scene. Very cool Alfred Hitchcock cameo, in a way.

  22. Rahne

    The Ice Warriors are invading again? Dangit, grab the Brigadier out of retirement *sigh*

    Really though, AWESOME video. Seriously.

  23. Very nice! I liked the flare as it progresses from 19 seconds through 25 or so. A rocket launch seems appropriate.

  24. Aubri

    Holy Haleakala…

  25. Good catch, Jearley! You’ve got good eyes!

  26. Good eyes on the barn shot Richard. :) That is the camera coming out of the window at the old house, a timelapse of a timelapse being shot.

  27. Ashleigh

    Absolutely beautiful!! While I don’t live there any more, this is the South Dakota I will forever call home. Thank you for this!

  28. Wowza. This is made of awesome.

    It’s just a shame that the embedded player is such crap. I was able to extract the original page URL from the embed code so i could view this made-of-awesome clip at Richard’s original Vimeo page. Whoooaaaa, yeah, that’s sweet.

    My desperation for a viable alternative to the blowsy, trashy, censorious YouTube makes Vimeo’s choppy, busted playback even more frustrating. Luckily, though, I was able to nab the original URL so I could properly experience the awesomeness in this piece. The moving POV really makes all the difference. Pheeeeee-eww! Man, yeah!

  29. Jeff


    watch the living earth breath and interface with the larger universe.

  30. Acronym Jim

    Gorgeous video. I wonder if this is how three-toed sloths perceive the world?

  31. Obviously fake. You can see the stars!

    – Jack

  32. Nice work, Randy! What tipped me off was the clockwise sky rotation. After seeing the clip a couple times without noticing anything, it dawned on me that there was something odd about that shot. Seeing the pointer stars of UMajor sealed the deal. I agree with your aesthetic choice of reversing the shot. It looks better with it ending on the starry sky.
    You must’ve frozen your yingyangs off!

  33. Beautiful video, but, audio kills it.

    Try running it with Enduser “End of a Beginning (Sublight Version)”

  34. Amazing and stunning. Would love to know what the song is as well. It’s perfect for this video. Absolutely incredible video!!!!!!!!!!! It blew me away!

  35. hi .
    awsome footage with stunning places.
    its verry nice and the time and effort u put into making them is just unbeleaveble.
    tnx for shearing this with the world.

    cheers from belgium.


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