2014-09-16

StarryNights - the world's largest observatories in time lapse

For some years I've been collecting short time lapse clips from my trips to various locations and let them go to seed. What a shame - so I took one afternoon two days a week some time to piece them up and create a short movie worthy of being released to the vastness of the internet. So here it is: StarryNights - my astronomical time lapses from 2011 to 2014 condensed to 6 minutes and 11 seconds!




There are tons of tutorials on the web on how to make such time lapse movies, in 2011 I added my own (in German). The tricks told then are still valid today. I used Windows Movie Maker to assemble the final video, not the best software available, but easy to use and without charge.

My time lapse was never intended to compete with the much better videos done by more professional photographers, but rather as a pimped recollection of my voyages in search for dark skies. Believe it or not, it was a mere byproduct. We let a camera run while doing "deep" astrophotography or visual observing.

Camera at work and focused at the shiny dome of the GranTeCan telescope - currently the world's largest optical telescope

Footage for the video was recorded at ESO's La Silla and Paranal observatories (Chile), Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory (Chile), at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma, Spain) and at El Leoncito National Park in Argentina. We were mostly a team of two, together with amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Georg Görgen from Monschau, Germany.

We owe thanks to ESO, Carnegie Institution of Science and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias for their support and permission to work at these great sites!

Getting ready for the night at La Silla

Among the telescopes featured are such illustrious ones like the Very Large Telescope (the world's largest optical interferometer), the GranTeCan (currently the largest optical single telescope) and the MAGIC twin telescopes (two of the largest Cherencov telescopes for high energy gamma rays).

Definitely one of the best showpieces for time laps photography, due to their large (17m) open mirrors: the MAGIC twin telescopes (the image shows MAGIC 2). Image: Georg Görgen
We used off-the-shelf cameras and lenses (Canon EOS 350D, 450D and 600D, 17-50mm zoom, 8mm fisheye). Because the 350D is not very sensitive, we sometimes used the full moon as a natural light source. Both full and new moon shots have their merit - while the moon illuminates domes, telescopes and landscapes, true dark skies feature the milky way or the Magellanic clouds.

Exposure times varied from 5s (full moon) to 40s (new moon) at ISO 800 to 6400 and various f-stops. No image processing was performed prior to video assembly.

Definitely one of the best placed in the world for stargazing and astrophotography: The VLT-platform at Paranal observatory. Image: Georg Görgen

Which one of the places is my favorite? La Silla and its history, the sociability of Las Campanas, Paranal's elegance, El Leoncito peaceful quiescence or the Roque's breathtaking vistas from a volcano 2500m above the Atlantic - each one has its claim to fame. You may as well read this as a travel recommendation.  
 

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