Night Sky Timelapse Photography of the Mauna Kea Observatory (With Lasers)

In Hawaii, there exists one of the best astronomy observatories in the Northern Hemisphere. At 14,000 feet atop Mauna Kea sits several huge telescopes (about 33 feet wide!) and many other astronomy oriented equipment. Sean Goebel, a graduate student at the university of Hawaii, has spent a good deal of time inside (and outside) these incredible facilities. Hiking around in the freezing cold, acclimating to the altitude, and running on only a few hours of sleep, Goebel went above and beyond to film this incredible timelapse:

Goebel shot his timelapse with a Canon 5D Mk II and Rebel XT. The major lenses he used to film were a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, a Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, and a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. He also used a home-build rotary table to incorporate camera movements.

Things to Consider When Planning a Night Sky Timelapse:

  • Location – If you’re just filming the sky, you may not think that your location would affect your timelapse much. However, the amount of light in your surrounding area can greatly affect how clear your night sky shots are.
  • Moon Phase – The brighter the moon, the more difficult it will be to balance out the brightness of it and the stars. Goebel was cautious to shoot when the moon phase was small.
  • Weather – A cloudy night will ruin a night sky timelapse. Check your local weather station for clear nights free of clouds or rain. Also be prepared for temperature changes as it can drop severely from day to night in some places.
  • Events – Are you waiting for something specific to happen? A meteor shower perhaps or a lunar eclipse? Always check out information about upcoming astronomical events and also events in your local area that could disrupt your filming (ie. fireworks show)
hawaii observatory timelapse mauna kea space night sky

Mauna Kea sits 14,000 feet above sea level

And to answer your first question after watching this video, yes, the lasers are real. They are used for adaptive optics and monitor atmospheric turbulence. This information is sent to a mirror in the telescope that moves hundreds of times a second to cancel out the blurring.

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One response to “Night Sky Timelapse Photography of the Mauna Kea Observatory (With Lasers)”

  1. bascombe says:

    beautiful stuff.

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