What’s the Difference Between a Rocket and Space Plane? Amazing Hand-Drawn Animations Explain It All

You gotta love Earth’s atmosphere. It basically makes life (as we know it) possible on our planet by providing warmth and air to breathe, as well as protecting us from nasty space things like radiation and smaller asteroids. But for studying space (i.e., astronomy) or coming back to Earth from space, the atmosphere is a pain.

Last year, we introduced you to freelance animator and storyboard artist Stanley VonMedvey, who started creating short, hand-drawn videos to explain a complex topic: how spacecraft work. These videos are wonderfully concise, clear and easy to understand. Plus Stan’s hand-drawn animations are incredible.

His series, “Stan Draws Spaceships” now has a new video that shows the complexities of how spacecraft return to Earth through our atmosphere, comparing the partially reusable Falcon 9 and fully reusable Skylon. Take a look below. Again, the hand-drawn animations are impeccable and Stan’s explanations are just captivating.

I was trying to think of sufficient accolades for Stan’s work, but I can’t do any better than one commentor on Stan’s YouTube Channel. MarsLettuce said, “The attention to detail here is insane. The air intake being shorn off by drag was especially great. The sequence of her hands making the paper plane was subdued, but it added a lot. The characters were really well done, too. I love the reaction of Stan being hit by the paper airplane. It’s hilarious.”

Stan’s earlier videos explain expendable launch vehicles and the space shuttle.

He describes himself as “completely obsessed with and fascinated by space exploration,” and he wants to share what he’s learned over the years about spaceflight.

Stan would like the opportunity and resources to make more videos, and has started a Patreon page to help in this process. Right now, he creates the videos on his own (he told us he uses the time-honored home-recording technique of draping a blanket over his head) in his home office. It takes him roughly 2.5 months to produce a 5 minute episode.

“I’d like to make a lot more videos,” he writes on Patreon, “explaining things like Hohmman transfers and laser propulsion and the construction techniques of O’Neill cylinders. I want to make long form videos (2-3 minutes) that explain a general idea, and short form videos (30 seconds) that cover a single word, like “ballistics” or “reaction control.”

An artist’s conception of Reaction Engines’ Skylon spacecraft. Credit: Reaction Engines

So, check out Stan’s videos and his Patreon page. If you’d like to see more, consider supporting his work. See more of his drawings at his website.

Land On Titan With Huygens in Beautiful New Video

On December 25, 2004, the piggybacking Huygens probe was released from the ‘mothership’ Cassini spacecraft and it arrived at Titan on January 14, 2005. The probe began transmitting data to Cassini four minutes into its descent through Titan’s murky atmosphere, snapping photos and taking data all the while. Then it touched down, the first time a probe had landed on an extraterrestrial world in the outer Solar System.

JPL has released a re-mix of the data and images gathered by Huygens 12 years ago in a beautiful new video. This is the last opportunity to celebrate the success of Huygens before Cassini ends its mission in September of 2017.

Watch as the incredible view of Titan’s surface comes into view, with mountains, a system of river channels and a possible lakebed.

After a two-and-a-half-hour descent, the metallic, saucer-shaped spacecraft came to rest with a thud on a dark floodplain covered in cobbles of water ice, in temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing.

Huygens had to quickly collect and transmit all the images and data it could because shortly after landing, Cassini would drop below the local horizon, “cutting off its link to the home world and silencing its voice forever.”

How much of this video is actual images and data vs computer graphics?

Of course, the clips at the beginning and end of the video are obviously animations of the probe and orbiter. However, the slow descending 1st-person point-of-view video is made using actual images from Huygens. But Huygens did not take a continuous movie sequence, so a lot of work was done by the team that operated Huygens’ optical imager, the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR), to enhance, colorize, and re-project the images into a variety of formats.

The view of the cobblestones and the parachute shadow near the end of the video is also created from real landing data, but was made in a different way from the rest of the descent video, because Huygens’ cameras did not actually image the parachute shadow. However, the upward looking infrared spectrometer took a measurement of the sky every couple of seconds, recording a darkening and then brightening to the unobstructed sky. The DISR team calculated from this the accurate speed and direction of the parachute, and of its shadow to create a very realistic video based on the data.

If you’re a data geek, there are some great videos of Huygens’ data by the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory team, such as this one:

The movie shows the operation of the DISR camera during the descent onto Titan. The almost 4-hour long operation
of DISR is shown in less than five minutes in 40 times actual sped up to landing and 100 times actual speed thereafter.

Erich Karkoschka from the UA team explained what all the sounds in the video are. “All parts of DISR worked together as programmed, creating a harmony,” he said. Here’s the full explanation:

Sound was added to mark various events. The left speaker follows the motion of Huygens. The pitch of the tone indicates the rotational speed. Vibrato indicates vibration of the parachute. Little clicks indicate the clocking of the rotation counter. Noise corresponds to heating of the heat shield, to parachute deployments, to the heat shield release, to the jettison of the DISR cover, and to touch down.

The sound in the right speaker follows DISR data. The pitch of the continuous tone goes with the signal strength. The 13 different chime tones indicate activity of the 13 components of DISR. The counters at the top and bottom of the list get the high and low notes, respectively.

You can see more info and videos created from Huygens’ data here.

Read some reminiscences about Huygens from some of the Cassini team here.

At ISO 400,000, This 6-Minute Film Shows Why We Love the Night Sky

Obviously, you’ve seen timelapse videos of the night sky because we share them here on Universe Today all the time. But you’ve probably not seen a video like this one before. This one isn’t a timelapse, and you’ll see the night sky in all its splendor, in real time.

“I think this one may be the beginning of something damn interesting,” said filmmaker Ben Canales, who along with cohort John Waller of Uncage The Soul Productions, shot this video with new low-light technology. Using the new Canon MH20f-SH, which has the capability of shooting at 400,000 ISO, they were able to “film in the quiet moments that have been impossible to capture until now.”

“Since 2013, I’ve been tinkering with all sorts of camera/lens/software combinations trying to move beyond a long exposure still to real time video of the stars,” Canales said on Facebook. “Sooner or later, we have to move beyond a frozen photo of the stars to hear, see, feel what it is really like being out there!”

In addition to showcasing this wonderful new low-light shooting, Infinity² really captures the emotional side of amateur astronomy and the beauty of being under the night sky. He took a group of high school students out to witness the Perseid Meteor Shower in Oregon, and the students got together with the Oregon Star Party. Together, they answer the simple question “What do you feel?”

As Canales says, “Something internal and personal draws us out to the night sky.”

Check out more on Uncage The Soul Productions, Canales’ astrophoto website and Facebook.

Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.

Infinity ² from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

See the Beauty of Earth and Space in Stunning New ISS Timelapse

Moonrises, sunsets, aurorae and of course, our beautiful planet Earth star in this latest timelapse compiled from imagery taken by astronauts on board the International Space Station. “Orbit 3” was put together by Phil Selmes using ISS footage captured during ISS Expeditions 42 and 43 between January through May 2015.

“I hadn’t planned on making another ISS time lapse video but I have been so awestruck by some of the recent footage I couldn’t help myself,” Selmes told Universe Today. “I think the point of difference for this video is that it not only draws on very recent footage but it includes many views not seen in other time lapse videos, for example some of the full screen “fisheye views” have not been featured too heavily nor have some of the shots looking through the ISS side viewing windows.”

This is the 4th video Phil has produced using ISS time lapse footage (see another here and a ‘Birdman-like tracking shot timelapse here). Phil says he still gets a lump in his throat every time he sees our “tiny little planet with its miracle cargo of life orbiting alone in the absolute vastness of space.”

We do too.

See more of Phil’s work on Facebook or G+.

5 Stunning Timelapse Videos Show the World at Night in Motion

Award-winning photographer Babak Tafreshi from The World At Night (TWAN) has been traveling the world to captures nightscapes in various locations. He has shared five beautiful timelapse videos of night sky landscapes “from locations that never been filmed like this before,” he said.

The first video, “Lake of Fire at Night” shows the gorgeous view of the Milky Way above Lagoa do Fogo, a volcanic crater lake in the Sao Miguel island of Portugal, Azores, on the Atlantic Ocean.

Kilimanjaro at Night

Here, travel to Mount Kilimanjaro and view it under the starry skies of Amboseli. You’ll see the Magellanic Clouds and fast-passing satelites, along with African wildlife.



Stars Above Himalayas

See the stars above the roof of the world. Mt Everest and other Himalayan peaks in the World Heritage Sagarmatha National Park of Nepal appear in this nightscape timelapse clip.


Santorini by Night

Santorini, Greece is lovely by day. And at night, the island is filled with lights, limiting the night sky view. But here you can see rare views of the starry sky above the island during a major blackout.


Magic Telescopes

The MAGIC telescopes, located near the mountain top of the Roque de los Muchachos on the Canary island of La Palma, are part of a highly sensitive gamma ray observatory, with giant 17 meter wide dishes. The multi-mirrored telescope pair observes gamma rays indirectly by detecting brief flashes of optical light, called Cherenkov light. See them here with the beautiful night sky above and clouds below.

See more of Tafreshi’s videos on Vimeo and more photos and information at his website.

A Night-Sky Timelapse You Don’t Want to Miss

It’s an old story: a couple leave their jobs, sell everything, and live in motorhome to capture footage and imagery of the night sky.

Wait… what?

This unique story is exactly what Brad and Marci Goldpaint did. They left their jobs and traveled throughout the western US in an RV to begin educating the public about the damaging effects of light pollution. They wanted to help reconnect people with the simple beauty of the night sky and have been teaching photography workshops and gathering footage for a new timelapse called “Illusion of Lights: A Journey into the Unseen.”

With breathtaking scenes and soaring music, this video “introduces you to the concept of movement and time that visually explores our night skies,” says Brad on Vimeo.

We’ve featured images and timelapses from Brad before, and he shared how the sudden loss of his mother caused him to reassess his goals and priorities. Since 2009 he’s been working on outdoor photography and has now dedicated his work to sharing images of the night sky with others.

For this timelapse, Brad said he “spent countless nights traversing in the dark, carrying heavy camera equipment, and braving the dark unseen.” He dealt with lightning storms, dangerous winds, and up-close encounters with bears and other wildlife. Sometimes, after spending days hiking to a remote location and with optimistic weather reports, Mother Nature showed up and ruined his opportunity to get the shot.

A few highlights: at about 2:00 there is an exploding meteor with a persistent train that is stunning. You’ll also see strange lights on Mount Rainier. Brad explained these lights are from people climbing the mountian at night in hopes of reaching the summit by sunrise the following day. The white lights you see are from their headlamps. “Can you imagine climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night?” he asks?

Another still from "Illusions of Light." Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint Photography.
Another still from “Illusions of Light.” Credit and copyright: Brad Goldpaint Photography.

For more about this film see their website.

Illusion of Lights: A Journey into the Unseen from Goldpaint Photography on Vimeo.

New Timelapse Shows Urban Nightscapes Without Light Pollution

What if we could have the best of both worlds, where a vibrant city didn’t interfere with the view of the night sky? That was the thought of astrophotographer Sergio Garcia Rill when he decided to create simulated versions called “Urban Nightscapes.”

“I have been shooting astrophotography nightscapes for a few years now, but due to light pollution I need to travel hours away from the city to be able to see and photograph the night sky,” Rill wrote on his website. “But I wanted to make a combination of what it might be to see the night sky from within the city and my Urban Nightscapes series was born.”

His first video includes Texas cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, and he makes it clear, the images and video he’s produced are mockup views.

“The stars in the video have been added through digital manipulation and the sky doesn’t look that way inside the city due to the light pollution,” Rill clarified. “I did my best effort to try to simulate the sky as it would have looked without light pollution but I am aware that not all the segments have achieved that, and I’m aware that this kind of shots are (at least at the moment) impossible to do in camera.

Enjoy the video above, and we’ll look forward to more in the future! Find out more about Rill’s project on his website.

Urban Nightscapes Texas from Sergio Garcia Rill on Vimeo.

Wow! Epic 4K Timelapse of Aurora Over Iceland and Greenland

Holy Northern Lights, Batman! This new timelapse is just beautiful! Photographer Joe Capra traveled to Greenland and Iceland to shoot 10 nights of the arctic Aurora. Not only was the aurora absolutely stunning, but the landscape is equally beautiful. Joe said that all the footage was shot in super high resolution 4K Ultra HD, and you can even see the bright aurora reflected in small rivers and streams.

Here are some of the locations Joe shot the footage: Greenland locations include the Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat, Ilimanaq, Ilulissat Ice Fjord, Russell Glacier, Greenland Icecap, and Disko Bay. Iceland locations include the South Coast, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufell, and Grundarfjörður.

Check out more of Joe’s work at his website Scientifantastic.

Two Lands – Greenland | Iceland from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

Video: Fly Over a Weird Landscape on Mars in 3-D

This isn’t quite like Luke’s trench run in the Battle of Yavin, but it’s waaay more awesome in that this is real.

Go grab your red–green or red–blue 3-D glasses (you always have a pair right by your desk, right?) and enjoy this great flyover video from ESA showcasing some very interesting landforms on Mars that planetary geologists refer to as ‘chaotic terrain.’ There’s nothing quite like this on Earth, and scattered throughout a large area to both the west and east of Valles Marineris are hundreds of isolated mountains up to 2,000 meters high. “Seen from orbit, they form a bizarre, chaotic pattern,” say scientists from the Mars Express orbiter.

What created this weird landscape? Scientists think that during Mars’ early history, water in the form of ice was stored in cavities beneath the surface of the highlands; this was then heated and thawed out. It was then placed under so much pressure that it escaped to the surface with great force through fissures and fault zones. As it flowed out, the water eroded the terrain and gradually left behind the striking landscape visible today. Another factor supporting this theory is that many of the chaotic terrains on Mars are located at the head of large outflow channels, through which enormous quantities of water flowed out of the highlands towards the northern lowlands.

The data used to generate the images and the simulated flyover were acquired with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter.

See more imagery and details here.

Our Curiosity: Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Felicia Day Narrate Video About Mars Rover

In honor of the 2nd anniversary of the Curiosity rover reaching Mars, Caltech has put out a wonderful new video about the plucky little rover that has captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world. And some familiar voices do the narration: astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and actress Felicia Day. The video was created by Caltech planetary scientist Jeff Marlow, and he called it a “love letter” to the rover.

“As scientifically productive as the mission has been, Curiosity’s inspirational capacity may be its true value, its ability to make us feel as if we too are there, crunching on red dirt, pondering the planet’s past environments,” Marlow wrote on Wired.

Enjoy the look back at Curiosity’s travels so far. If you’re like me, the last line in the video (spoken by de Grasse Tyson) will really get you.

Find out more about the video at ourcuriosity.org, where they promise a “making of” video and more will be available soon.