Raging clouds, near and very, very far

By Phil Plait | July 22, 2012 6:30 am

I follow quite a few photographers on Google+, Twitter, and other social media. Why? Because this:

I know, right? This ridiculously amazing picture [click to embiggen, or see an even bigger version] was taken by Randy Halverson of DakotaLapse.com, whose photos have been featured here on the BABlog many times (see Related Posts below). He took this one on the evening of July 19, 2012 as part of a time lapse he’s making. The vast Milky Way galaxy glows above the red clouds illuminated by town lights from below. And on the horizon a storm rages, eruptions of lightning strikes captured in this 15 second exposure.

Funny – the Milky Way looks a bit like a cloud there, but instead of countless droplets of water held up in our air, it’s composed of hundreds of billions of stars suspended in space by their orbital motion around the galactic center. We can see only a few thousand stars with our naked eyes, and they’re all very close, most within a hundred light years of Earth. But the Milky Way is a thousand times bigger than that, and the glow we see is actually the blended light of far more stars than there are people on Earth.

And yet in this shot even that mighty power is reduced to a faint smear compared to the electric discharge of a nearby storm. The raw energy released in a bolt of lightning is staggering, but it’s essentially nothing compared to a galaxy’s worth of stars. It’s only their terrible, terrible distance that dims them.

As you juggle the events that happen in your daily life, remember this photograph. It’s easy to get distracted by smaller flashy things that are nearby, and forget about much bigger issues if they’re far enough removed. It’s a thought worth holding close.

Photo credit: Randy Halverson, used by permission.


Related Posts:

- The Milky Way and the Mashed Potatoes Mountain
- Temporal Distortion
- Behind the time lapse camera
- Reflecting on the ISS
- Another jaw-dropping time lapse video: Tempest

Comments (17)

  1. Fred Beiderbecke

    Pretty amazing.

  2. loreno
  3. Linda Chover

    I love the photographs on Dakota Time Lapse. Thank you for a glimpse of what it is like to see the sky from the wide open spaces. It does put things into perspective. as you write about here.

  4. Jeroen

    “As you juggle the events that happen in your daily life, remember this photograph. It’s easy to get distracted by smaller flashy things that are nearby, and forget about much bigger issues if they’re far enough removed. It’s a thought worth holding close.”

    Best motto. Ever.

  5. Indeed a wonderfull photo. Showing so much beauty at once. And the composition of it. Your eye is drawn from all that to the climax at the lower right bottom.
    Just great!

    And hoorah for Ratterday:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4WWWG3libBk#

  6. Jay29

    I remember it being a big “aha” moment for me when I learned that every star we can see (unaided) is within our small section of the Milky Way. It was like “holy crap, we can only see our closest neighbors in our spiral arm. The universe is huuuuuuuuuge.”

  7. Anonymous

    The last paragraph wasn’t necessary.

  8. You forgot the closing italics tag.

  9. Sunny D

    I second Anonymous’s statement.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Sunny D : I disagree with that statement of Anonymous. Last paragraph looks fine to me.

    Funny – the Milky Way looks a bit like a cloud there,

    .. But not as much as the Magellanic Clouds do! ;-)

    As for that photo itself I’ve got just one thing to say about that – Wow! ;-)

    Plus thanks. :-D

  11. Nigel Depledge

    What a stunning photo!

  12. DrFlimmer

    Ouuuh. That last paragraph is brilliant. Just like the photo! Both are certainly worth to be remembered.

    This article should be sent around to some folks at Wall Street….

  13. niki lo

    Thank u, thank u, thank u…. this had a tremendous impact on me. i am awed and truly humbled and most amazed that all of these were captured in a photo. . . . . talk about Perfect timing!!! Only wish i was there to see and hear it, it would have been a feast for my soul….. (~.~)* xx
    Well Done, Randy Halverson!* Good job, man!!

  14. niki lo

    Well Done, Randy Halverson!* Fantastic job, man!! Oooops… don’t know how to delete this. The f/b dingbat strikes again – sorry… :-/

  15. Matt B.

    It’s easy to get distracted by smaller flashy things that are nearby,…”

    Flashy thing? I don’t remember any flashy thing. ;)

  16. Delia

    For me, the point is that the world doesn’t look like that. It’s not possible and it’s not even beautiful. The photo is clever and accomplished and amazing, definitely: like Disney World crossed with a Sierra Club calendar.

  17. Delia

    Okay, I should modify my impressions. That was rude.

    My daughter loved the time-lapse video, and she loved the photograph. So even if I can’t appreciate the aesthetic of burnishing and re-working a photograph, and am missing something that others can see, I’m really pleased by my daughter’s enthusiastic response to this site. I’m glad that it stimulates her interest in photography . . . and astronomy . . . and lightning . . . and what seems to be a forest fire or possibly an apocalypse . . . and the colors pink and aqua and tangerine.

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