Well, at least light pollution makes for a pretty time lapse

By Phil Plait | October 6, 2011 11:28 am

Light pollution — wasted light that gets thrown up into the sky instead of down onto the ground where it’s actually useful — is the enemy of every sky watcher, from the professional astronomer to the some time star gazer. It overwhelms fainter objects, and in bad cases even the brightest stars, reducing the glory of the sky to a washed-out glow.

But, it pains me to admit, it can be pretty. Photographer Brad Goldpaint used it to his advantage to make this short, lovely time lapse video called "Wiser for the Time", showing orange-lit clouds racing past the sky above them:

[Make sure to watch this full screen in HD!]

Recognize those skies? Orion, Taurus, Capella, Polaris, the Milky Way… given the light pollution, I was surprised how well some of those fainter objects showed up (especially the Andromeda Galaxy in both sets!). I was thinking just yesterday, in fact, that it’s been a while since I’ve been to a seriously dark site and seen more stars than I could hope to count. Maybe it’s time to find some secluded spot in the Rockies and wait for sunset…

Related posts:

Time lapse: The Wagging Pole – Night Watch
Stunning Finnish aurora time lapse
Wyoming skies
Another jaw-dropping time lapse video: Tempest
Time lapse: Journey Through Canyons
Down under Milky Way time lapse

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (15)

  1. The joys of being up near the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Although I have horrible cell phone reception (a trade off I gladly make for dark skies).

  2. Mark Vincent

    Hi Phil,

    You’re looking for a readily accessible dark sky sight, consider
    Lat = 39.955685, Lon = -105.356087.

    Last time I was there, about 8 years ago, a sign said it was
    closed after dark. But, I never had a problem spending
    hours with a telescope there.


  3. Carey

    The lights in my neighborhood are an ugly, sickly yellow. They don’t illuminate anything, either. They’re blinding.

    Bah. Stupid sodium.

  4. Michael Swanson

    I spend so little time looking at the night sky. It’s a shame, but in the city the night sky is comprised only of a few hundred of the brightest stars and is not inspiring. After my first trip to Maui a couple of years ago and an evening on top of Haleakala, the view from Portland’s streets is only ever disappointing.

    You know, growing up in California suburbs I didn’t see the Milky Way until my grandparents bought some rural property when I was 14!

  5. QuietDesperation

    We used to have those sodium lights. They slowly replaced them over time, although the new ones aren’t exactly all that and a bag of chips. Then again there’s studies that supposedly show all brights lights do is give the burglars light to see what they are doing. 😉 I think one hypothesis was that in the dark a thief needs to bring his own light, and flashlight moving in the dark stands out more. Something like that.

  6. David in England

    If only the unused and forever lost photons from urban lighting could be harnessed as a norm, such as in petrochem WHRUs or a car’s turbo-charging circuits, Joe Public might feel less apathetic towards light pollution.

    As it is, there is no recycling or benefit, let alone governance… and astronomy, especially “amateur” astronomy, however global it’s participation, represents no voice in such matters.

    Priorities are directed towards the consumer’s immediate convenience demanded for the bright-lights of fun&frolic, and the dollar-spend (Sterling, in my case) on bills, and there, all consideration ends.

    The only time (in my 50 years) I’ve enjoyed sight of the resplendent band of the the Milky Way has been offshore (in my SCUBA days) or overseas in areas of sparse population.

    Sad? Me? You betcha !

  7. Jason A.

    In the spirit of the original post, here’s a low-quality teaser timelapse sequence I filmed the other night of orange light-polluted clouds in front of a green aurora. Andromeda galaxy and Pleiades both make an appearance: http://www.flickr.com/photos/musubk/6202884488/

    After I get enough of these, I intend to cut them together in high quality with some music.

  8. Nemo

    I’ve never seen the Milky Way with my own eyes, only in pictures.

    Interesting that it can apparently be filmed even in a light-polluted sky, with a long enough exposure. If that’s really what we’re seeing here?

  9. Adam English

    Another New Hampsherite here. What is light pollution? 😀 😀 😀 We own 4.5 acres on the side of a ski mountain….perfect sky every night. The milky way edge is clearly visible above our house.

  10. I can’t even see Orion where I live, that’s how bad the light pollution is in DC.

  11. Chris Winter

    I recall the time I drove through Yellowstone Park. At some point I stopped the car and turned off all the lights. There was no other artificial light anywhere visible, so in a short time even the overhead dome light made me wince. But the Milky Way was glorious.

    Speaking of “light pollution,” I read that Saturday’s Draconid meteor shower will peak between 3 and 5 PM U.S. time.

    Here’s an article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/05/saturday-draconid-meteor-shower_n_996493.html

  12. Infinite123Lifer

    That actually made a great moment in my day.

  13. Vernon Whetstone

    Was recently discussing the Northern Lights with my eight year old son. A few days later we were approaching a big city after dark and he saw the glow and asked if the was an aurora. I said, no it was city lights reflecting off low clouds. Without missing a beat, he said, Oh, that is an aurora reflectus.

  14. Livia West

    So, how far from a city do you need to be, before you can claim reasonably unpolluted skies?


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