Gorgeous Milky Way time lapse

By Phil Plait | June 3, 2011 10:30 am

Last night I was out and facing south, and happened to notice the familiar stars of Scorpius poking through the trees. To me that’s always a sign that summer is here… and the Milky Way is coming back. Randy Halverson (who created the magnificent Sub Zero and Orion time lapse videos) had the same idea, and made yet another incredible video of our galactic urban center from his home on the plains of South Dakota:

You have to make sure the video is set to HD, and make it full screen. It’s stunning. I especially like the shot with the windmill and the one looking up along the trunk of the dead tree. Very dramatic!

Scorpius shows itself several times; look for the bright orange of Antares and the three stars making the scorpion’s claw to the right of the Milky Way’s bulge. What other constellations do you recognize?

Tip o’ the lens cap to Dave Mosher.

Related posts:

Very Large Telescope, Very Stunning Time Lapse Video
Incredibly, impossibly beautiful time lapse video
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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
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Amazing wide-angle time lapse night sky video
AWESOME timelapse video: Rapture

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (36)

  1. Steve

    Amazing, simply amazing! Makes me regret living in such a light polluted area.

  2. Carin JK

    I can’t thank you enough for this…it brings me back to being a kid when I had the time to lay on the ground and watch the sky all night long and blend into the wonder of it all. ♥

  3. Is there a website someplace which tells me at what time on a particular night can I see the milkyway?

  4. Keith Bowden

    The Bay Area sucks for sky viewing. Thanks for sharing these (and thanks to Randy for creating them!).

  5. ewa/Sweden

    Living in such an area, but in the summer, we see nothing when we have the sun around the clock until late in August. I wonder what kind of camera should I use to get such great pictures / movies? It’s just so incredibly beautiful.

  6. Mason R.

    This is where I want to go on my next vacation…

  7. Wait a second, am I to understand there are places in the world where you can see the Milky Way in that much detail? I was under the impression these time lapse videos used some filtering or different cameras to capture the other wavelengths of light (the stuff we can’t see with our eyes) and merged them with visible spectrum for the trees and clouds?

    ‘Cause if there are places where you can see this stuff, holy crap, I’m going right now.

  8. Chris A.

    The teapot of Sagittarius is what jumps out at me.

  9. Chas, PE SE

    Can’t he move south of the d**n shopping center?

    In the latest Lee Childs thriller, he has his character stand on the top of his car in Dakota. It is totally dark, except for red neon ten miles south. He goes there and finds the guy he’s looking for…

    Seriously, beautiful work

  10. Georg

    The Bay Area sucks for sky viewing.

    Here is why:


  11. Nihilismus

    A stunning view of our galaxy’s heart from a rural location. And by “rural location”, I mean Earth. :-)

  12. samm

    “the familiar stars of Scorpius poking through the trees. To me that’s always a sign that summer is here”

    Orion being banished to the western horizon at dusk and Scorpius returning is a sign of winter for us in the southern hemisphere :(

  13. artbot

    @5: Tech specs are on the vimeo page. Interesting gear. I was doing this same stuff (motorized dolly & intervelometer) with super-8 back in the 70s/early 80s.

  14. Bob

    Get real people, these aren’t as genuine as you think. The sunsets don’t move? The exposure required to get that level of detail from the galaxy is substantial and yet the shopping mall is still defined? Someone’s been splicing. Still looks cool though, but its 60% art.

  15. amstrad

    What is that that travels slowly (relative to the satellites/aircraft) across the sky from right to left in the scene at 1:56? Is it a near earth asteroid or something?

  16. Glauco

    #15 I was wondering about that, too. It appears to “fall” very quickly from the top right to middle left, then slow down, almost stopping before it reaches the sky behind the house.

  17. I don’t know what that is at 1:56, it was on camera for over an hour in that shot in real time. It is in the opening scene as well, but it’s a wider lens so it’s harder to see.

  18. Judging by the length of the 1:56 object’s stripe, it’s moving about 2 to 3 times as fast as the background stars move. Awfully slow for something in LEO, but well within the expected speed for something higher up, like a communication satellite or spent booster. If I knew the date the shot was taken I could see what Starry Night Pro has to say about it… Do you remember, Randy?

    #5 ewa:
    A Nikon D70s with an intervalometer will do the trick. It’s great fun! Then suck the stills into Final Cut Pro on a Mac and voila! It might take a bit of experimentation to get it to look this good, though. Randy (#17) has the camera on a track as well to help with depth perception.

    #7 Gareth:
    All you have to do is get away from city lights when the Moon isn’t up and adapt your eyes! Oh yeah, it can’t be raining or cloudy… Forgot that bit… :^)

  19. 5. Bob Says: “…these aren’t as genuine as you think. ”

    It’s good to be skeptical, Bob, but not cynical.

    The light on the horizon is not the sunset (or sunrise) but the light from a nearby city, which is relatively constant. With a sensitive CCD, the exposure time to get that level of detail is only a few seconds.

    – Jack

  20. Richard, it was on May 7th at 2:19am CDT when it first enters the frame. It goes out of site at about 3:14am. On the opening shot it pops into view a few minutes earlier at 2:13am. I assume the sun hit it then. I had 2 cameras running at the same time.

  21. DB

    I noticed that the very first lines that you said are what I’ve always thought of when I saw Scorpius too. I remember as a kid looking at that constellation for hours. You sure brought back some nice memories..TY :)

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    Beautiful. :-)

    Thankyou, Randy Halverson & the Bad Astronomer for this. :-)

    Seconding #13. samm for me Scorpius =Winter and Orion = Summer and noting that the constellations are seen upside down by you Northern hemispherers! 😉

    @12. Nihilismus : ” … by “rural location”, I mean Earth.

    If only *that* were true.

    Our planet is way too urbanised and getting ever more so. We’re not as bad as Coruscant / Trantor but “rural” we’re not, not enough anyhow.

    @7. Gareth T :

    Wait a second, am I to understand there are places in the world where you can see the Milky Way in that much detail?

    Yes, there are – go as far from the cities with their light pollution as you can. Find a spot witha clear flat horizon, open ocean, coastline or plains. The darker the skies the more you’ll see above – stars & Milky Way~wise especially at new moon and when the weather is clear.

    @3. Firoz Jokhi : “Is there a website someplace which tells me at what time on a particular night can I see the milkyway?”

    The band of nebulous light riven with dark dust clouds that is the Milky Way should be visible all night and every night – light pollution and weather permitting.

    Technically speaking, almost everything visible to the unaided eye is the Milky Way – everything except the few unaided eye visible galaxies – the Magellanic Clouds, Andromeda and a few other very dim and arerly spotted ones belongs tothe Milky Way which is our “island universe” containing our solar systenm and all the stars we can see without optical aid.

  23. Mircea

    We’re so small….

  24. Rats! Starry Night didn’t have any answer, Randy! The usual LEO suspects near the right area but not in the right direction. Cosmos’s, Iridiums, an Atlas centaur, but nothing high enough to be hit by sunlight at that late hour. At 2 to 3AM anything in low Earth orbit is in shadow.

    The Clark Belt communications sats move at the same speed as the stars, thus appearing to stand still (actually tracing a small figure 8 on the sky, but effectively still). Since this object is moving 2-3x the speed of the stars, this would put it a bit lower than the comm sats.

    Even so, whatever it is, it’s way the frak up there!

  25. Aubri

    @#7 Gareth T:
    Sssssorta. The camera is only recording visible light, but this level of detail can’t be achieved by a human eye because we can’t collect light for several seconds per “frame”. If you go to a really dark site, you can see some truly incredible vistas — my first such experience was at Yellowstone National Park — but the color and detail you see in these videos can only come from a camera.
    If you want a good show, find out where your local universities have their observatories. That will probably be the darkest site in your area. Head out there on the night of the new moon (but don’t trespass), or find out when their astronomy club will be holding a star party and ask if visitors are welcome! It’s my opinion that everyone should do this at least once.

  26. JIm

    Magnificent reminder of why, 24 years ago, I left the city and moved back to North Dakota: views such as these, plus the Northern Lights and horizon-to-horizon big skies, make me feel absolutely connected AND blessed! This is inspiring…

  27. Nice work. Reminds me of The Aurora video: http://vimeo.com/21294655

    Keep up the good work.

  28. Sylvia Lemus Sharma

    The magnificent night is a reminder for all to join in circles to gather at night for inner knowing. We do this at a farm in MN for five years in June, women with the support of men. The first year we did this in August and the stars were incredible. This video also brought back memories of travelling at night from Greengrass, South Dakato back to MN after a sundance. In a caravan with my Australian friend, we women stopped to star gaze sitting on the hoods of our cars enjoying the South Dakota skies, full of stars just like in the video. Awesome work.

  29. Arvind

    A 13 billion years timelapse video. Simulation of how milky way formed. Beautiful.


  30. steph


    I miss the stars. I used to stand in a puddle of drool getting a kink in my neck even in suburban areas of Australia. Here in Toronto, there’s not even any real point in looking up.

    This is gorgeous, and it made my week. I thank you.


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