We’ve all seen illustrations of the Solar System. They’re in our school textbooks, on posters, on websites, on t-shirts… in some cases they’re used to represent the word “science” itself (and for good reason.) But, for the most part, they’re all wrong. At least where scale is concerned.
Sure, you can show the Sun and planets in relative size to each other accurately. But then the actual distances between them will probably be way off.* And OK, you can outline the planets’ concentric orbits around the Sun to scale pretty easily. But then there’s no convenient way to make sure that the planets themselves would actually be visible. In order to achieve both, you have to leave the realm of convenience behind entirely and make a physical model that, were you to start with an Earth the size of a marble, would stretch for several miles (and that’s not even taking Pluto into consideration.)
This is exactly what filmmaker Wylie Overstreet and four of his friends did in 2014, spending a day and a half on a dry lake bed in Nevada where they measured out and set up a scale model of the Sun and planets (not including Pluto, don’t tell Alan Stern) including their respective circular orbits. They then shot time-lapse images of their illuminated cars driving around the orbits. The resulting video is educational, mesmerizing, beautiful, and overall a wonderful demonstration of the staggering scale of space in the Solar System.
Or perhaps I should say “eine grosse Aurora!” ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst made this time-lapse of a “massive aurora” as seen from the Space Station on August 24. The entire video is beautiful, showing not just a view of the ghostly green aurora but also plenty of stars, airglow, the graceful rotation of the ISS’ solar arrays, and finally the blooming light of dawn – one of sixteen the crew of the Station get to witness every day.
Then again, I’m now wondering: what is the mass of an aurora? Hmm…
Channelling all U2 fans: this stunning timelapse above Joshua Tree National Park is a walking tourism brochure for astrophotographers. The pictures were taken in September and November 2012 (the latter during the Leonid meteor shower) and just put up on Vimeo a few days ago.
Can you spot any famous astronomical objects? Read below to see some of what was featured in these video clips.
“Due to the lateness in the year I was there, the Milky Way was setting into the light dome of Palm Springs and greater Los Angeles. Consequently, I only got one decent Milky Way sequence in the nights I shot,” wrote videographer Mark ‘Indy’ Kochte on Vimeo.
“At the time I was not traveling with a dolly rail set up, so was limited in the camera movements to using an Astrotrac astrophotography guiding system. However, the Astrotrac would only pan for about 90 minutes before reaching the end of it’s workable motion. Hence why there are a number of ‘still’, tripod-only sequences.”
Aurorae were once believed to be warring clans of spirit soldiers, the skyward ghosts of virgin women, or the glow of fires burning inside celestial caves. Today we know they’re caused by ions in the atmosphere getting zapped by charged solar particles caught up in Earth’s magnetic field. But the knowledge of what creates aurorae doesn’t make their shimmering dance any less beautiful for those lucky enough to see them. I’ve personally never witnessed an aurora, but photographer Ole Salomonsen has — and he’s created yet another gorgeous time-lapse of the northern lights over his native Scandinavia to share their beauty with the world.
In the early pre-dawn hours on December 19, 2013, with a rumble and a roar, a Soyuz rocket blazed through the clouds above the jungle-lined coast of French Guiana, ferrying ESA’s long-awaited Gaia spacecraft into orbit and beginning its mission to map the stars of the Milky Way. The fascinating time-lapse video above from ESA shows the Gaia spacecraft inside the clean room unfurling like a flower during its sunshield deployment test, the transfer of the Soyuz from the assembly building to the pad, and then its ultimate fiery liftoff.
That’s a lot going on in two minutes! But once nestled safely in its L2 orbit 1.5 million kilometers out, Gaia will have over five years to complete its work… read more here.
Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, M. Pedoussaut, 2013. Source: ESA
If you couldn’t tell, we love time-lapse videos… whether they’re made of photos looking up at the sky from Earth or looking down at Earth from the sky! This latest assembly by photographer Bruce W. Berry takes us on a tour around the planet from orbit, created from images taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station and expertly de-noised, stabilized and smoothed to 24 frames per second. The result is — like several others before — simply stunning, a wonderful reminder of our place in space and the beauty of our living world.
This video is a compilation of different time-lapses taken from the ISS over the past several months, edited by Alex Rivest and shared on Vimeo. It shows just how incredible the stars can appear from the night side of our planet… and 240 miles up!
Here’s a gorgeous view from the International Space Station, taken by the Expedition 30 crew on Feb. 4, 2012 as the station passed into orbital dawn. The greens and reds of the aurora borealis shimmer above Earth’s limb beyond the Station’s solar panels as city lights shine beneath a layer of clouds.
As the ISS travels around the planet at 17,500 mph (28,163 km/h) it moves in and out of daylight, in effect experiencing dawn 16 times every day.
From that vantage point, 240 miles (386 km) above the Earth, the lights of the aurora — both northern and southern — appear below, rather than above.
See this and more images from the Space Station’s nightly flights here.
Also, here’s a time-lapse video made from photos taken by the Expedition 30 crew a few days earlier. Enjoy!
(Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.)
Here’s a quick but lovely little gem: a time-lapse video taken from the ISS as it passed above central Africa, Madagascar and the southern Indian Ocean on December 29, 2011. The nighttime flyover shows numerous lightning storms and the thin band of our atmosphere, with a layer of airglow above, set against a stunning backdrop of the Milky Way and a barely-visible Comet Lovejoy, just two weeks after its close encounter with the Sun.
This video was made from photos taken by Expedition 30 astronauts. The photos were compiled at Johnson Space Center and uploaded to The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, an excellent database of… well, of astronauts’ photos of Earth.
The site’s description of this particular video states:
This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken December 29, 2011 from 20:55:05 to 21:14:09 GMT, on a pass from over central Africa, near southeast Niger, to the South Indian Ocean, southeast of Madagascar. The complete pass is over southern Africa to the ocean, focusing on the lightning flashes from local storms and the Milky Way rising over the horizon. The Milky Way can be spotted as a hazy band of white light at the beginning of the video. The pass continues southeast toward the Mozambique Channel and Madagascar. The Lovejoy Comet can be seen very faintly near the Milky Way. The pass ends as the sun is rising over the dark ocean.
There are lots more time-lapse videos on the Gateway as well, updated periodically. Check them out here.
Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.