Video: See the Milky Way from a historic Chilean desert

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

In this clip of time-lapse photography from Stéphane Guisard, you'll see  breathtaking views of the Milky Way from Chile's Atacama desert on a perfectly clear night. Clear skies are not unusual in this 600 mile stretch of desert, which includes what National Geographic calls the "driest place on Earth"--a stretch of land that has not seen rainfall since record keeping began.

The site is also home to petroglyphs—ancient drawings carved into the rock at the dawn of civilization—which Guisard uses as a backdrop to the cosmic scene unfolding in the night sky (To get the full effect, it's best to view the footage in  full-screen mode):

Discover magazine's Bad Astronomy blog breaks down the scene of the video:

Because of happenstance—the tilt of the Earth and the geometric relationship to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy—the southern skies are better than what we get up here.

I love how this opens, with the bright star Betelgeuse hanging over the rocks, quickly joined by the Orion Nebula—seen upside-down to northern hemisphere sensibilities. Look at the bottom right star of Orion's belt once it clears the rock (around 28 seconds in): that fuzziness around it is real, home to the Horsehead Nebula.

You can see more of Guisard's space-themed photography here.

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