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Connections faculty and staff newsletter
 December 2012

Star Trails

Alex Roberts, computer support technician at Columbia College-Rolla, shares his experience making a time-lapse video of the earth’s rotation.

This New Year’s Eve will be the two-year anniversary of when I started taking astrophotography. As insignificant as this fact may be, it has led to the creation of a much larger work, Star Trails, an HD video I created with 18,647 pictures of astrophotography. The finished product is a time-lapse of earth’s rotation; you can see the stars actually rotating around the sky throughout the night. The average speed of the video is 360 times as fast as you would normally see the starry night (that’s six minutes of rotation per second).

Whenever I show this video to other people - of any background - they are always amazed at the natural beauty of the night sky. Most people don’t even realize what’s out there. My video shows many things that the human eye can’t see.

The creation of this video was somewhat accidental; I dropped the images in the wrong program. The result, however, was more amazing than I ever could have hoped for. The images were stacked together, so I could see rings around the sky from earth’s rotation. I started fiddling and taking more time-lapses of the night sky; things grew from there. Eventually, I took many of these pictures and made them into videos. I eventually had stacked more than 18,000 pictures.

When I made the first YouTube video, it didn’t save because I ran out of hard drive space. Upgrade! Soon after I released the first version, I noticed that it didn’t look quite as good as it did on my computer. YouTube was compressing it. I removed some things and added others to optimize it for viewing through the internet. I also saved it with a “lossless compression” to maintain quality. In the end, I have spent more than 260 hours working on this video.

Soon after I released it onto the web, there was a massive solar flare. There were auroras everywhere. Because of this, I submitted a picture of auroras over my house in Missouri and added a link to my YouTube video. This is when it really started taking off. I hope to advertise it some more so people can be exposed to astronomy. It isn’t just for nerds or tech guys, it’s for everybody! Children love constellations, pretty patterns, and mysterious blurs. Adults like the history and pondering, “Are we alone?” Also, everybody loves to see a shooting star. Throughout my history of photography, I have always had the hope of showing others what is really out there. I believe that this video is my tool to do this.