Time lapse: Close to the Heavens

By Phil Plait | October 29, 2012 12:15 pm

[Personal note: With a hurricane bearing down on the US, I dithered over posting this now… but maybe some of you good folks could use more Moments of Calm.]

Astronomy PhD student Péter Pápics sent me a note about a time lapse video he made at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma in the Canary Islands. I’ve been to this observatory, attending a meeting there many years ago. It’s a place of incredible beauty, so I was eager to see his video, and when I watched it I was thrilled to see it was even better than I hoped. Here is Mercator: Close to the Heavens. Make sure you set it to hi-def and full screen.

Many time lapse videos now use a small motor-driven rig to move the camera very slowly as it takes the pictures, but that limits how long a sequence you can shoot. Péter made two choices here: to use a steady tripod which allows longer shots, and to pick a frame rate that accentuates the magnificent grace of the motion depicted. The clouds flow like oceans, and the stars move serenely. His choice of Moonlight Sonata works well here, especially since the sequences are shown in time order, with the setting Sun leading to a night of observations at this important and heavily-used astronomical site.

I’ll have to bookmark this video; when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed with the need to save the world, this will help me remember what it is we’re trying to save.

Related Posts:

While the Sun Was Sleeping
My God, it’s full of star trails
Time lapse: stunning Australian skies over a pathfinding array
Emerald Isle time lapse

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (19)

  1. Chris A.

    Observatory domes in time-lapse remind me of a dog amidst a flock of birds: Their heads move slowly as they track a target, then snap quickly to a new target once the previous one is no longer as interesting.

  2. This is beautiful – thanks for sharing.

  3. Matt B.

    The part at 5:03 reminds me that I saw the most amazing anticrepuscular rays a month ago. They were wide bands in the sky and the rising full moon was in, as Phil says, the shadow of the Earth.

    I’m guessing Péter Pápics is Hungarian and that his last name is pronounced /pah-pitch/.

  4. Paul M.

    There’s a rabbit around 2:44!

  5. VinceRN


    I think the world will be fine. It’s been through worse than we could do and came out fine before. I think it’s really us that need saving. The world can get by, and probably be quite beautiful, in a wide variety of temperature ranges, with or without a bunch of smart little apes running around on it as it has for billions of years and will for billions of years to come. Us smart little apes are more fragile though, and quite ephemeral. We are the ones in danger, not the world.

    Chris @ #1 – Just watched my dog doing that not long ago. Good comparison, wish I’d noticed it before.

  6. Puts me to sleep. I like it.

  7. Sarah

    Thanks. I really needed that bit of beauty, it’s been a tougher Monday than usual.

  8. flip

    Thank you for that. I am stressed out right now with work and took the 5 min to watch the video. I feel much better – and that was a wonderful example of the beauty of our world.

  9. Carin

    That was beautiful, the editing was superb (matching the graphics to the music). I think I’ll bookmark it too.

  10. I could watch time-lapse clouds all day :) I love seeing how they form and dissipate.
    That reminds me, though – many of these scenes seem to show observatories slewing around and being used while the sky appears mostly filled with clouds. Do the folks who run observatories really try to observe through holes in the clouds? It seems like it’d be an awful lot of work to figure out what targets you could observe during any given few minutes.

  11. Katrina

    @Joseph: yes, they do, and yes, it is (tho only when gaps are longer than just a few minutes)

  12. @Matt: good guess, correct pronunciation!
    @Paul: I also like the rabbit there, it was interesting to see it after bringing the camera back inside :)
    @Joseph: Yes, as observing time (or telescope time) is expensive, if the weather is not completely hopeless, we try to get the most out of even cloudy skies. Of course we have much less cloudy nights as you might think after watching this movie, but clear skies do not make a nice time-lapse movie, so that’s why cloudy scenes dominate here. Normally we have around 300 clear nights per year.

  13. Ryan H

    The whole time lapse movie craze is getting a bit tired for me, but this one was different…peaceful and breathtaking, and devoid of any camera fancy footwork or moving tripods. Moonlight Sonata was the perfect touch. Very well done.

  14. Dogs watching flock of birds? Was my brain the only one that – despite the tranquil serenity of these images – shouted “Exterminate! Exterminate!” at me…? 😉

  15. @12 Peter I. Papics and Katrina: Ahh. I didn’t know that – I guess I figured that clouds for an astronomer meant a night of drinking and watching the weather channel 😉

    @Peter Papics: Anyway, beautiful work! I was quite surprised when I realized that all of this footage was from one place. If you’d told me I was seeing half a dozen different observatories, I’d believe you. You really got all the angles!

  16. Matt B.

    I think the people of the northeast U.S. could use this as a “rebound” relationship with weather.

  17. Brian Too

    This video reminds me of something I saw quite similar. It too used time lapse techniques and I think it was from the Canary Islands as well?

    Not a criticism. Just that weird déjà vu feeling.


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