Bad Astronomy

The Oncoming Storm

Lightning erupts under a storm cloud.

Photo by Jim Bailey, from the video

Astronomers have an understandable fascination with weather. It affects our observations directly, of course (unless we observe from space, or use observatories that see through clouds). Plus, as I’ve said here many times, we look up. We notice the clouds, the color and texture of the sky, the incredible interaction of light and air that can produce stunning optical effects.

I love pictures of weather, especially storms. Still, those static, unchanging photos sometimes lack that needed extra dimension to give you a sense of depth. In particular, that extra dimension can be time. When you see the motion of the clouds, you get a far better grasp of the perspective, the layering, the overwhelming scale of the phenomenon.


Photographer Jim Bailey can provide that dimension. His time-lapse video “Nimbus, Part II: Turbulence” is a riveting display of the fury of the sky. Make sure you set it to HD, make it full screen, and turn the volume up.


[Note: He has a warning about people sensitive to bright strobing flashes, so be ye fairly warned.]

That’s simply stunning. I have a hard time picking out my favorite bits, but I do like it when storm clouds and clouds at a different height are moving in different directions. That is a striking display of perspective, as are the rays of sunlight bursting from the clouds fanning out and moving as the cloud travels along the wind.

The colors are amazing too. Teal, green, blue, red, white: All of these are from sunlight mixing, scattering, interacting with air, dust, and moisture above us. The colors combine with the shapes of the clouds to create a gorgeous (if sometimes terrifying) tapestry, telling the story of the outrageously complex physics of fluid dynamics made into literally high art.

This being Part II, there is obviously a first installment, too, and you really want to watch Nimbus Part I: The Quiet Sky. It starts off in black and white, which emphasizes texture and structure, and when the colors come in, well, wow.  I can’t wait for Part III, which Bailey told me is titled “Rotation”. That one sounds like a fitting piece of this story.

Tip o’ the lens cap to the We Love Timelapse! Facebook group.