Very Large Telescope, Very Stunning Time Lapse Video

By Phil Plait | May 30, 2011 11:59 am

Oh, what the heck. After posting the video earlier showing the Earth rotating around the sky, I might as well show you the original video, since it really is so beautiful. This time lapse shows the sky spinning over the Very Large Telescope observatory in Chile, one of the finest observatories in one of the darkest sites on the planet.

[Set the resolution to 720p to see it properly unenpixelated.]

A couple of things I want to point out: at 1:10 into the video, you see the Milky Way rising majestically over the mountains, and you can see a faint, whitish glow stretching diagonally across the field of view, at an angle to the galaxy. That’s called the zodiacal light, and is caused by the reflection of sunlight by dust in the plane of our solar system. It’s probably due to eons of collisions grinding asteroids into dust; they tend to orbit the Sun in the same plane as the planets. It’s actually a disk of dust, but since we’re in it, we see it as a line across the sky. It’s pretty faint, and you need dark skies to spot it.

I also love the shots of the observatories shooting orange lasers out their domes (here’s a gorgeous hi-res photo of it). They’re fending off attacks by the Goa’uld, Ori, and Wraith using those to help counteract atmospheric distortion; the laser hits a layer of sodium atoms high in the atmosphere and causes them to glow. This creates a bright artificial star in the telescope’s view, which jiggles and wiggles as the atmosphere roils. The way the "star" moves can be counteracted by the telescope, sharpening up the image it makes. This tech, called adaptive optics, has revolutionized high-resolution ground-based astronomy. It has also given the VLT the ability to make incredibly sharp and gorgeous images; see for yourself.

Don’t forget to watch the companion video to this, too. It’ll change your perspective. Literally.

Video credit: Stéphane Guisard and Jose Francisco Salgado/ESO.

Related posts:

Incredibly, impossibly beautiful time lapse video
Australian Outback time lapse
Dust, from the desert below to the galaxy above
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 (24)

  1. Valdis

    I’ve always wondered – is that site *really* high enough that the stars start appearing when it’s still that light out, or was dusk composited together digitally?

  2. Len Bonacci

    If you look very carefully, you can also see what I think are geosynchronous satellites. They’re the points of light that *aren’t* moving in these scenes (the ones where the cammera is fixed and not panning with the scenery, that is). The section from about 4:30 to 4:45 has a bunch. I suppose some of them could be bad pixels on the camera, but they’re in an arc, and in roughly the right part of the sky…

  3. Robert S.

    @ Len Bonacci: I think you may be right. If you look at 6:23-6:33 in the upper right corner you can see two or three spots that blink in and out. They’re clearly moving wrt the stars but they look like they’re fixed wrt the ground. Since the camera is panning in this shot they can’t be dead pixels…although they could still be ofter optical artifacts or something else entirely…still it would be properly epic if thats really what we’re seeing.

  4. Zathras

    No, no, no..Zathras think you are wrong. NOT fighting off Goa’uld, Ori, and Wraith. They are fighting off Shadow and Drakh battlecruisers.

    Cannot run out of time. There is infinite time. YOU are finite. ZATHRAS is finite. THIS is wrong tool.


  5. John Sandlin

    I also wonder about the stars that show up before the bright light sets…. wondering if maybe that is the moon rather than the sun. Even at 2635 meters there is still a good amount of atmosphere above you. Perhaps you could see stars at 15000 meters while still daylight – but even then it would surprise me.


  6. Aaron

    We gaze into the heavens and are greeted with open arms . . .

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thankyou, BA, marvellous. :-)

    @1. Valdis Says:

    I’ve always wondered – is that site *really* high enough that the stars start appearing when it’s still that light out, or was dusk composited together digitally?

    I don’t know – but as a kid I spotted this super-bright star high in the sky in daylight while playing on the lawn a while before sunset and eventually after several nights worked out what it must be – Venus. Some stars esp. of the “wandering variety”* are bright enough to be visible whilst light or twilight anyhow. Watching a sunset sky change, observing the order that stars emerge into familiar patterns as the contrast knob is turned is something I enjoy.

    @4. Zathras : LOL. Classic. :-)

    * Wandering star = planet. Venus, Jupiter, occassionally Mars, rarely Mercury these are the brighter stars-that-move & good candidates to check when enocuntering a bright star in an odd place. They shine with a usually somewhat steadier light too. Mind you all stars do “wander” across the sky also – they just do so too slowly for us to notice the changes.

  8. Wzrd1

    Bleh, that Sci Fi stuff and lasers fighting off the aliens.
    It’s REALLY the astronomers fighting off the invasion of the mother in laws!

  9. Wzrd1

    OK, at 4:19 (a bit before and after as well), aren’t those the magellanic clouds?
    I’m not familiar with the skies of the southern hemisphere, but I think I’m quite in love.
    I could spend weeks just examining the dust spectra…

  10. jennyxyzzy

    Oh wow! So much to see in this clip!

    @wzrd1 – I was lucky enough to be able to see the Magellanic clouds with the naked eye last time that I was in Australia for holidays – they’re surprisingly large, about as big as the Moon! I can’t believe that I grew up with something so big in the sky above me, and never having noticed.

  11. Radoo

    @Wzrd1: Yes, those are the Magellanic Clouds. I’ve just looked them up on Google Earth (Sky). Anyway it’s an amazing video.

  12. reidh

    That is sooo cool. That the stars are visible in such quanta before the actual sunset. Watta trip!

  13. Glen

    Awesome video. Are the adaptive optics lasers this visible to the naked eye? Or are they only visible in photos/videos because of timed exposure or filters?

  14. Aubri

    I too want to know about the daylight stars. Is that just a function of extremely long exposure times? Did they have to use some kind of anti-sky filter? Is it actually not daylight at all, but rather long-exposure moonlight?

  15. Aubri

    @Glen: The sodium lasers they use are visible due to atmospheric scattering, yes. Ironically, the guide stars they generate are far too faint to see without a telescope.
    It’s cool to have the telescope pointing out what it’s looking at, though!

  16. dmd76

    Between 1:56 and 2:05, it looks like there’s a string of 4 geosynchronous satellites that are successively illuminated (in the middle of the window horizontally, about a fifth of the height from the top; visible in full screen at 720p).

  17. Michael Rochler

    Seems to be that the zodiacal light can also be seen from 1:27 to 1:30 (left-hand side), and from 6:35 to 6:43 (centre). What else would it be?

    Lovely video. Thanks!

  18. Billy J.

    Seeing this makes me realize how small we really are. but i do have one question: How do i get out there?

  19. Me

    I think the “stars visible with the Sun up” is a misunderstanding. I think those “sunrises” are actually moonrises, and that the real sunrises are those big wash-outs (everything goes white).


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