New Starry Time-Lapse: A Tribute to Sky-Watchers

It seems there’s no shortage of jaw-dropping astronomy time-lapse videos floating around the web, which highlight the gorgeous spangle of stars visible over lovely locales (for instance, in the high Chilean desert, the northern U.S. West, and the mountains of La Palma, in the Spanish Canary Islands).

But in a new twist, astrophotographer Babak Tafreshi has aimed his lens at the people who scan dark skies for their treasures with the same gusto as foodies shopping in a farmer’s market.

Tafreshi’s newest video is described on his Vimeo page as “a tribute to to all skygazers around the world who enjoy exploring the night sky with their telescopes.” It was released today to celebrate April 2012 as Global Astronomy Month.

The video captures the frenetic bustle as people participate in star parties, compete in observing marathons, and engage in their own astrophotography—while the glittering cosmos sails serenely above.

Footage for the film was taken between 2007 and 2011 in Iran, Austria, Germany, Nepal, and La Palma.

One event Tafreshi features is a Messier Marathon, which was started in the U.S. in the 1970s as a challenge for dedicated deep-sky observers. The observing competition is now an annual activity held by astronomy clubs around the world.

During a marathon, “people race to see all the Messier 110 deep-sky objects (galaxies, nebulae, clusters),” Tafreshi said in an email.

[The widely used Messier Catalog of “nebulous objects” was compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier in the late 1700s. The original list of 103 items was published in 1781, with updates bringing the number to 110 by the 1970s.]

For some groups the marathon is “just a group observing night, and everyone does it for fun and they check their own list,” Tafreshi said. But “in some other occasions, like the one I founded in Iran in 2001 … it’s a national level [event] and there are judges for each of several observers. So it could be a serious competition.”

The idea is that “observers only have a few minutes to locate each object, and most of these are too faint to see by unaided eye, so finding them in a telescope or binoculars needs experience with sky navigation. So people who win such competitions know every corner of the sky very well!”

In addition to the marathon and several similar gatherings shown in the new video, “the two images in Nepal from 5:10 to the end was a very interesting event I was involved with,” Tafreshi said.

“On a TWAN trip to the country we also had some outreach programs. Together with the Nepal Astronomical Society we organized a public star party in the middle of the [Kathmandu Valley World Heritage center’s] Durbar Square of Bhaktapur, surrounded by temples, and this Dobsonian telescope was the highlight of the night,” he said.

“Many young people who never had a chance to look through a telescope were standing on a very long line across the square to see the moon. This was the longest line behind a telescope I have ever seen.

“A look to the moon through a small telescope changed my life forever when I was 13, and this might happen to few of these people too!”

See more of Tafreshi’s pictures from the Nepal trip on, and find out how to participate in sky-watching events during Global Astronomy Month 2012.

Changing Planet