Star and firefly trails, from Vincent Brady’s “Firefly Time-Lapse” (which you seriously need to go watch, like right now … what are you waiting for?)
The Firefly Time-Lapse
Wow. This one is simply stunning. A wonderful new time-lapse from Vincent Brady, with music from Brandon McCoy, captures fireflies like Earthbound shooting stars against the backdrop of the night sky that we usually see in videos like these. Using long exposures and stacked images, this time-lapse operates on two scales: Terrestrial and astronomical.
Ahhh, good ol’ Photina pyralis, those harbingers of warmer days, those bearers of chemical candlelight, those blinking lovers calling out for a mate on long summer nights.
Photina creates its light using a process called chemiluminescence, mediated by an enzyme called luciferase. The luciferase protein, a name which stirs images of fiery spirits, grabs on to its chemical target, a molecule called luciferin, sitting ready, but dark, in the active site of the protein, like an unlit firework. Luciferase then reaches for a molecule of ATP, every living cell’s energy source, luminescent or not, capturing its chemical energy like a sprinkling of gunpowder on a fuse. It breaks apart that ATP into AMP and pyrophosphate, and with the release of that fiery-sounding byproduct, the invocation of fire begins.
Now oxygen gas, the very fuel fire needs to burn, rips away the AMP and sits down in its place. The fuse is burnt, the fire has food, and it’s time to ignite. Exhaling carbon dioxide, the luciferin molecule is excited into oxyluciferin, its atoms charged full via oxidation. Almost instantly, it relaxes back to a resting state, shooting out a photon like a quantum bullet.
And so it happens, millions of times a minute, in invisible pyralis posteriors that only betray their location in fleeting flashes of chemistry as they streak across the twilight sky.
Think about that as you watch this, speakers up, full screen.
Sit back, relax, and allow yourself to be hypnotized by this microscopic time-lapse video of snowflakes as the are born and evolve their emergent hexagonal complexity.
This video, embedded below, is the fine work of Vyacheslav Ivanov:
And if you’d like to know more about the science of how snowflakes form and why they look that way, check out this video, from … me:
My head’s still fuzzy from running my marathon this morning, so all it can really handle is looking at mesmerizing startrails and gorgeous astroscapes. But, um, you guys see the dragons too, right?
Borrego Stardance is the latest from Gavin Heffernan and Sunchaser Pictures. It takes us to the town of Borrego Springs, California, home to a rather motley assortment of strange metal sculptures (dragons, scorpions, mammoths, etc.) and one of the world’s handful of official “dark sky communities”, where access to the deepest reaches of the cosmos is actively protected from urban light pollution.
Popular Science called this the most trippy time lapse they’d ever seen, and I have to agree. In a good way.
You’re gonna want to give this one the full screen, speakers up treatment.
The Rare “Zodiacal Light”
Photographer Justin Ng captures a rare sight in a gorgeous time-lapse video taken over the volcanoes surrounding Mt. Bromo. Here’s the full video:
As the Milky Way comes into view, a diffuse, glowing triangle becomes apparent even though the sun is far below the horizon. In the photo below, by Ng, you’ll notice that the glowing triangle contains the planets Venus, Saturn, and Mercury:
This is sunlight, reflected from below the horizon, bouncing off of faint dust that lingers in our solar system’s planetary disk, the zodiacal plane itself. This so-called “zodiacal light" is the result of leftover debris from the formation of the planets, light so faint that even moonlight will obscure it.
This is what’s left from the birth of our home and its neighbors, glowing in the springtime night. Wow.
It’s a cloudy, cold, wet day here in Austin, and I’ve been working my neurons to their myelinated bones getting ready to film a bunch of stuff before the holidays … I really needed this.
Enjoy Michael Shainblum’s Into the Atmosphere, a timelapse exploration of the great state of California, over 12,000 photos stitched together in a stunning moving portrait.
THOSE SUNSET COLORS … AHHHHHHH i can’t
And thanks to the fine folks at Vice/The Creators Project, here’s a behind the scenes feature on how Shainblum does his work, and overcomes his learning disabilities through art:
The World Outside My Window
I have seen my fair share of orbital time-lapses, and this one, by David Peterson, had me frozen still in my seat, gazing at my screen in a state of happy contentment that can only be dutifully accompanied by a smile and maybe a goosebump or three.
What gets me about this one is how deep and textured some of the clouds look. So often, images of Earth from space make it look flat, like the painted blue marble it is so often compared to.
The International Space Station is currently zipping around at 7.7 kilometers per second above Earth, pretty fast considering it’s only 15 years old, and still a year away from getting a driver’s license.
Take a front-row seat to wonder with Sean Goebel’s Mauna Kea Heavens time-lapse. Full screen, high-def, speakers up … you know the drill.
Atop the Big Island of Hawaii, a one million-year-old volcano towers silently above a tropical paradise. The native people named it Mauna Kea, after the snow-white cap at its peak. This living mountain extends over 33,000 feet from the base of the seafloor (twice the height of Everest) and, by my definition at least, the highest mountain on Earth.
Its 13,808 foot height above sea level mean that it sits above 40% of Earth’s atmosphere and water vapor. Combined with Hawaii’s low light pollution and near-equatorial location, this make Mauna Kea an idea place to observe the heavens free from terrestrial interference.
Over the past fifty years, thirteen telescopes have been erected on the site, with a fourteenth (the world’s largest) coming in the next few years. It’s a pretty sight, eh?
Sean Goebel, the artist behind this time-lapse, is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii with the enviable task of working at Mauna Kea, one of Earth’s prime perches from which to observe the universe. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Mauna Kea houses telescopes that see across the electromagnetic spectrum, from optical to radio. Its smallest mirrors are the size of the Hubble Space Telescope!
What’s up with the lasers? They are not part of a Pink Floyd light show, sadly. Rather, they are part of an advanced adaptive optics system. The gases and water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere cause light to distort as it travels to Earth (which is why stars twinkle). The lasers, up to a foot wide and five thousand times more powerful than a handheld laser pointer, shine through the atmosphere and their distortion is analyzed by computers on the ground. The telescope mirrors are adjusted several times per second in order to correct for the atmospheric blur. This, combined with their size, makes Mauna Kea’s largest telescopes some of the most sensitive ever constructed.
I agree with Sean: “Every telescope should have a laser,” whether or not they are useful. But even that brilliant light show has nothing on the cosmos itself. Thank you, Sean, for capturing it so wonderfully.
Visit the Mauna Kea Observatory website to learn more about the science behind this beautiful array of eyes on the sky. Oh, and enjoy the show :)