Time lapse: old rocks and old skies

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2011 7:11 am

Stéphane Guisard — a photographer whose work has graced this blog many times (see Related Posts below) — has created a beautiful time lapse video of the night sky, shot in the Atacama desert in Chile. The site has petroglyphs — ancient drawings carved into the rock — that Stéphane used as a foreground to the dance going on in the night sky. Watch!

[Make sure it's HD and make it full screen. He has it posted to YouTube as well, but the resolution is not as high.]

I love how this opens, with the bright star Betelgeuse Rigel hanging over the rocks, quickly joined by the Orion Nebula — seen upside-down to northern hemisphere sensibilities. Look at the bottom right star of Orion’s belt once it clears the rock (around 28 seconds in): that fuzziness around it is real, home to the Horsehead Nebula.

At 1:04 the Small Magellanic Cloud — a galactic satellite companion to the Milky Way — makes an appearance, and if I don’t miss my guess, the bright "star" right next to it is 47 Tuc, one of the biggest globular clusters in the sky. The Andromeda Galaxy and Jupiter show up at 1:40, and the Pleiades make a cameo a little after two minutes in… and the ending is pretty cool, too.

I’ve never been to Chile, but videos like this make me want to go very much. Because of happenstance — the tilt of the Earth and the geometric relationship to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy — the southern skies are better than what we get up here. A moonless night that far from city lights would be quite the trip, and very much worth it.

Credit: Stéphane Guisard


Related posts:

- Orion in the Mayan skies
- The lines in the sky are stars
- Incredible all-sky picture
- Very Large Telescope, Very Stunning Time Lapse Video

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (13)

  1. Great clip. Thanks. :-)

    At 1:04 the Small Magellanic Cloud — a galactic satellite companion to the Milky Way — makes an appearance, and if I don’t miss my guess, the bright “star” right next to it is 47 Tuc, one of the biggest globular clusters in the sky.

    Spot on. 47 Tucane it is. :-)

    It’s only rival for best Globular cluster of all as seen from Earth? Omega Centauri. ;-)

    Nb. Kaler’s photographic finderchart for (eastern) Tucana is linked to my name here if that helps folks at all. Hope it does.)

    PS. BA, you know that Australia has great dark sky areas for viewing those southern skies too right? If you come down under – to Adelaide South Oz specifically – I’d be delighted to shout you a beer or three and show you round Stockport observatory and the Mawson Lakes planetarium – we’ve got indigenous rock art and all sorts too – and we speak english as well! Any plans for that? Please?

  2. Ponteaus

    “Because of happenstance — the tilt of the Earth and the geometric relationship to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy — the southern skies are better than what we get up here.”

    Could someone please elaborate on this statement? At first I thought he meant you’re more likely to get a nice dark sky in the southern hemisphere (due to economic disparity), but that’s not affected by the position of the Earth or the Milky Way. Are there simply more interesting objects in the the southern sky or better views of them?

  3. I love how this opens, with the bright star Betelgeuse hanging over the rocks, quickly joined by the Orion Nebula — seen upside-down to northern hemisphere sensibilities

    Ahem, you meant to write *Rigel* there didn’t you? ;-)

    For us Southern hemispherers, Rigel and Saiph (Kappa Orionis) are at the top of the constellation with Betelgeux and Bellatrix (Gamma Orionis) below Orion~wise. Sorry -guess I can understand your confusion there.

  4. Chris

    I was wondering if anyone knows what camera these people use to make such great timelapses. It’s relatively “easy” to take a picture of the stars, just spin the camera as you integrate, but getting the foreground and background things just the right exposure is pretty amazing.

  5. Chris Martin

    Wow, I even picked out the Flame nebula and the Horsehead! I can’t see those from my light polluted location in the UK even with my 14 inch telescope!

  6. There’s also South Africa if you’re looking for some good stargazing. That was one of my favorite parts of being a Peace Corps volunteer there.

  7. VinceRN

    Gotta agree the southern skies are better, though I’ve only gotten to see them three times.

  8. TerryC

    Just South of the equator in open ocean, the “Big Dipper” across from the “Southern Cross”
    observed from a surfaced submarine getting ready to go back to no stars. Sure enjoy your
    pictures.

  9. This video was indeed beautiful. I myself am not an astronomer, nor I am very familiar with all the constellations and galaxies and Globular clusters and all their positions in the sky…I think I was able to identify only a couple. Anyway, I thought the video was something extraordinary to watch.

    I noticed that some of the stars gave off different, transparent lights in the video. How could that have happened? What would have caused that? Is it some sort of optical illusion within the lens, or is it something else?

    While watching the sky, I couldn’t help but also look at the petroglyphs during the film and try to figure out what they depicted. Did anybody else do that? I was only able to see what the second petroglyph depicted though; it looked like it was the drawing of a llama.

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