Wide-Angle Lenses and Astronomy

Just a short while ago, I showed you how the most powerful telescopes were able to gather incredible amounts of light from a tiny part of the sky, and peer deeper into the darkest regions of the Universe than ever before. But there’s another way to do astronomy that’s just as majestic: view the entire sky at once.

For an astronomer, this is easy; all you have to do is get a fisheye lens, and you can see an entire hemisphere with no problem. (The “up” hemisphere is much more interesting than the “down” one.) If you use it at night and take a time-lapse exposure, you can truly create some amazing images of the entire night sky, like this one by Alan Dyer.

But last month, a group of amateur astronomers got together in Fort Davis, Texas, and created this time-lapse video at a star party of the Milky Way galaxy rising as the night progressed. It is stunning how beautiful something as simple as the Earth spinning can be. Watch the entire 11 hour night compressed into 48 seconds; you will not be sorry!

Wow! Seriously… just… awe. Check out the original upload in HD by William Castleman if you like, and have a great weekend!


  1. #1 Health Physicist
    May 29, 2009

    Wonderful post.

    Request – please provide posts which explain how astronomical distances are actually measured and how the age of significant astronomical phenomena are measured.


  2. #2 Gingerbaker
    May 30, 2009

    That is an awesome video! Thanks. 🙂

  3. #3 Matthew von der Ahe
    May 30, 2009

    Dr Siegel:

    Thanks for the link to William Castleman’s AMAZING, spectacular time-lapse video. Gorgeous. Awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

    However, I have a bone to pick with you. You wrote, regarding the ease and usefulness of recording, hemisphere by hemisphere, the neighboring portion of the universe, that ‘the “up” hemisphere is much more interesting than the “down” one.’ Humph, I say. Geology, the study of the “down” hemisphere, is at LEAST as interesting as astronomy, although the time-lapse movies would have to be much, much longer.

  4. #4 Brian
    June 1, 2009

    It’s great that you were able to say “this is easy” in a post. That’s almost as good as “That’s easy!”

    I disagree that the most interesting hemisphere is necessarily the up one. For astronomy, yes, but for geophysics, no.

  5. #5 KoKo
    June 6, 2009

    Wonderful photos and links.

    How do you take a long exposure shot with a fisheye? Do you put the camera on a motor mount? Doesn’t the ground eat a lot of the exposure?

  6. #6 m
    August 13, 2009
  7. #7 Johnny
    August 15, 2009

    Beautiful thank you for posting.

  8. #8 Szkoly Policealne
    February 27, 2011

    wow, so beautiful! The video, Ethan, so often at night and during the day I look at the sky and think about what is out there, the incredible distances, and our globe in it like a tiny raisin in cake full of nuts.

    Our world – Universe is so full of logic

  9. #9 Augmentation Mammaire
    March 6, 2011

    The Sky is a refreshing bath. Is like water, circulating mater that is enriching us and making the world more fluid and refreshing. When I look at those beautiful photos, I just relax and know that everything is going to be ok.
    we are such fluid circulating energy too. This is so incredible

  10. #10 Nawozy Organiczne
    March 23, 2011

    hey I love those photos, so very often I look into the sky and just relax.
    We are just small drops of water in the ocean.
    And looking into the sky… just makes things grander
    thank you

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