Dust, from the desert below to the galaxy above

By Phil Plait | April 17, 2011 6:52 am

I’ve been posting some amazing time lapse videos of the night sky here lately, and I’ve been trying to set the bar pretty high. I like all the ones I’ve seen, but they have to have something special, something that sets them apart, for me to embed them here.

This one does just that. Earlier this month, photographer Terje Sorgjerd went to Mt. Teide in the Canary Islands to photograph the sky. He was upset when a Saharan sandstorm blew across the sky, ruining his video… or so he thought. What really happened was magic. Pay attention 30 seconds in to see the stunning results*:

Simply breathtaking. The dust blows overhead, glowing golden as it’s illuminated from below by city lights, while above and beyond the Milky Way itself ponderously looms into view.

As the galaxy shows itself, look at the dark lane bisecting it. Feathery and ethereal, those dark fingers and tendrils are actually vast complexes of dust, long chains of carbon-based molecules floating in between the stars. Created when stars are born, age, and die, this dust litters the plane of the galaxy. Seen edge-on, it absorbs and blocks the light from stars behind it, creating the dark fog cutting across the breadth of our spiral galaxy.

There’s a poetry here; dust from a local storm blowing a few kilometers above, but translucent enough to allow us to see beyond it to a different kind of dust blowing among the stars.

Tip o’ the lens cap to Terje himself, who posts on reddit.

* If the embed or link doesn’t work for you, Terje also uploaded it to YouTube. Make sure you set the resolution to 720p to get the full experience!

Related posts:

Stunning winter sky timelapse video: Sub Zero
OK, because I like y’all: bonus aurora timelapse video
Sidereal Motion
Amazing wide-angle time lapse night sky video
AWESOME timelapse video: Rapture

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (34)

  1. Aaron


    I saw this video the other day and wondered what on Earth could cause that glow.
    Had I considered that which lies beyond the Earth, dust, then I perhaps I’d know!

    (Sorry for the impromptu rhyme.)

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Beautiful. Thankyou Terje Sorgjerd & the BA. :-)

    Now if only Terje had captured the zodiacal light ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zodiacal_light ) – the dust of shattered asteroids and evapourated comets inside our our solar system – there as well. He could have had a hattrick of dust varieties – inside Earth’s atmosphere, interplanetary & intergalactic! 😉

    For those who are curious here :


    is a link to the wikipage for Mt Teide whilst the name may also ring a bell because of this object :


    the first verified brown dwarf – and one located in the Plieades, Messier 45, star cluster. :-)

  3. Sebastian

    video doesnt work for me

  4. Jenna

    Love those rolling wave/clouds!

  5. Dewi

    That is absolutely amazing! The clouds rolling look like ocean waves!

  6. Unfortunately I rarely get to appreciate these videos. They all seem to be powered by Vimeo, and Vimeo sucks, at least for computers more than a few years old. :-(

  7. Sebastian, Adrian: I provided a link to the YouTube version in the footnote.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    2. Messier Tidy Upper

    “the first verified brown dwarf – and one located in the Plieades, Messier 45, star cluster. ”

    Cool, eh?

    ,,,and it’s only hot enough to fuse lithium,,,which may be one of the reactions we should be aiming for.

    Gary 7

  9. flash

    “Some kind of celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They Should Have Sent A Poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.”

  10. @Humble_Sky

    Its always nice to switch reference frames once in a while and be reminded of the spinning globe on which we all live.

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    Next time someone pulls out that tired old falsehood that scientists leach the beauty and art out of the natural world, I’ll give him a list of links where Phil has waxed poetical on how appreciation is enhanced by understanding, and beauty magnified by knowledge.

  12. Chip

    I also like how he was able to (slowly) pan along the landscapes while the clouds more rapidly slide by and the rotation of the sky smoothly turns, all at seemingly different speeds.

  13. Chris

    I can’t find words to describe the beauty of those images.

  14. Paul in Sweden

    sorry phil but if it doesn’t give me another chance to make an ass of myself i don’t want to know about it

  15. Martin

    @YouTube video:

    “This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country. “

  16. Douglas Troy
  17. Brian

    I like the way the clouds/fog look like surf on a shore at about 45 seconds in.

  18. John Baxter

    I wish my perfect shots were as good as Terje’s “ruined” shots.

  19. CB

    I just found out you can pre-order the first Bad Universe DVD at http://store.discovery.com/detail.php?p=294461. I don’t have convenient access to the Discovery Channel, so this is great for me.

  20. Jason

    These are incredible. I have tried doing some timelapse myself in the past and it is no where near as great as this. I imagine he has to has some kind of rig to move the camera at a very smooth, but slow rate to combine the timelapse and camera motion.

  21. chris j.

    chip @12,

    the moving foreground actually makes these videos unwatchable for me. i find it extremely irritating, and it detracts from the experience of watching the time-lapse in the sky.

  22. Adam English

    This video is everything beautiful and awesome about the world we live in. Sometimes you need to slow down (speed up?) in order to appreciate what we have.

  23. The art exhibitions of the 21rst century wont feature paintings like piccaso, but giant pc screens playing videos like this. Amazing work, thank you for posting it! :) astonishing!

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @8. Gary Ansorge :

    2. Messier Tidy Upper :“the first verified brown dwarf – and one located in the Plieades, Messier 45, star cluster. ”
    Cool, eh?

    Well, relatively so – at one thousand six hundred degrees Kelvin its freezing cold for a star but still scalding hot for a gas giant planet! 😉

    ,,,and it’s only hot enough to fuse lithium,,,which may be one of the reactions we should be aiming for.

    Yes. If you mean developing better forms of nuclear power as our main energy source – definitely. Thorium reactors and Hydrogen fusion if it can work well enough seem like good paths to follow.

  25. kate

    Stunning time lapse. Thank you for posting.

  26. Beautiful. Good job Terje.

  27. Justin B

    Makes me hate light pollution. I counted 23 stars last night from where I live :( Sad I can count them.

  28. Joseph G

    “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in. ”

    The first thing that comes to mind…

  29. Jeff

    people who make a big deal about the distinction between “life” and nonlife, I contend that the universe itself is alive and biology is nothing but one particular manifestation of this life, and you can see this universe living and breathing so to speak

  30. Dominic

    This is an amazing video, but I have one question. Does anybody know the name of the song that is being played?



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar