What the Heck Is This?

Some photographers will know exactly what this is. Other people might not be so sure.

Is it some sort of digital storage device? No. Is it a meteor shower? No.

No more hints. See the full image and a description below…

These are star trails created in a long-exposure photograph. The image was made at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Star trails are created as Earth rotates (once every 24 hours or so), and the stars appear to move across our sky. Just like the sun, the moon and the planets of our solar system, stars rise and set because of Earth's rotation.

Photographs of star trails are sometimes used in the media wrongly to represent meteor showers. A time-lapsed image of a meteor shower can reveal meteors streaking through the sky, but they will appear as straight lines. If the shutter is left open long enough, star trails can develop. But the physics behind each, and the resulting streaks, are quite different.

This week is a good time to catch the Perseid meteor shower, by the way — if you're willing to get up just before dawn.

Southern sky star trail captured in Chile with the European Southern Obervatory's Paranal Observatory in the foreground. The photo was released in December 2009. In the Northern Hemisphere, all stars appear to rotate around a spot directly above the North Pole (that is, the North Star, or Polaris). The same thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere, which explains why the stars all appear to move on a circular path.
Southern sky star trail captured in Chile with the European Southern Obervatory's Paranal Observatory in the foreground. The photo was released in December 2009. In the Northern Hemisphere, all stars appear to rotate around a spot directly above the North Pole (that is, the North Star, or Polaris). The same thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere, which explains why the stars all appear to move on a circular path.
Credit: ESO/S. Guisard

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