Timelapse video of city night-lights from the window of a plane

This gorgeous video was made by improvising a camera-stabilizer on an empty plane seat and shooting timelapse of the squiggles made by the cities the plane flew over. The creator, Flickr user Ettubrute, sez, "On my night time flight back to SF from Amsterdam, I noticed that the lights from cities were making the clouds glow. Really spectacular and ethereal - it was really seeing the impact of urban environments from a different perspective. Each glow or squiggle represents one town or city! ...We were around the midwest at the beginning of the clip, and there were fewer cities once we hit the rockies. the bridge at the end is the san mateo bridge." Glowing Cities Under a Nighttime Sky (via Kottke)


  1. Very cool… but I’d be worried to set up a camera stabiliser etc. on a plane for fear of being arrested :(

  2. It seems like the angles are wrong – the plane seems way to low and the lights are are too much on the same level.

    Pretty cool nonetheless

  3. #3: You just touched on why flying at night is much more difficult than flying during the day. The confusing visual cues can really disorient you and make judging altitude nearly impossible.

  4. That plane flew in a very straight line relative to the visible background stars. Practically no heading changes.

  5. Is this real? I hate to cast doubt, but something just doesn’t seem right about the relation of the “cities” to the height of the plane.

  6. On further viewing, I now declare it real. So there, it’s officially real. The way they come down through the cloud cover just seems right. I retract my earlier doubt.

  7. The lights are cities illuminating the clouds above them, not the direct view of the city lights. Hence the light seeming to be close to the planes altitude.

  8. Awesome! The thing I noticed most was the stars, and how they remained pretty much stationary through the flight. I think I see Cassiopeia in the upper left and part of Pegasus on the right (at least in the still frame, prior to hitting play)!? Anyway, that was cool, and perhaps they stayed relatively stationary because he was traveling westward and following the rotation of the sky overhead.

    @#8 imipak: Your link doesn’t work for me, but I assume you were going to reference something about light pollution? I belong to an astronomy club, a faction of which spawned the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting: http://www.illinoislighting.org

  9. When I was living in North Dakota you could see a similar thing from the ground. The air would be clean enough that light wouldn’t diffuse until it struck the frozen water in the clouds. This caused a beautiful halo of light to erupt in the cloud cover that you could see for miles. So, at night when the conditions were right you could stand outside and go “…there’s the airport, Grand Forks, Mekinock, Manvel, etc.”

  10. I read this line in the post:

    “improvising a camera-stabilizer” and my inner geek wanted to know more about what me made. I checked the link, and what does it say he used?

    a “mound made up of my bags, pillows, and blankets.”

    Apparently, I have improvised camera-stabilizers all over my bedroom floor and didn’t even know it.

  11. I’m still dubious– if the time-lapse was indeed 3 hours or so, as stated on the source page, the apparent angle of the Big Dipper should have rotated anticlockwise a noticeable amount (flying westward in a commercial jet is not fast enough to freeze sidereal motion). Also, long-haul flights follow great-circle routes, rather than straight east-west, so the constellations should have also skewed to the right as the plane’s heading became more and more southerly.

  12. @#18 skygzr: Well done, good sir. By way of your username I shall trust your judgment. I was a little thrown off by the Big Dip’s bowl, which seemed a tad distorted, but now that I realize this is viewing North (as he is traveling West) that being Ursa Major maketh the perfect senseth.

  13. why does air travel have to be so horrendous? A little real art and original distraction and you would be wanting the trip not to end. Some artistic mind needs to re-imagine it. People now pay absurd amounts for first class that is nothing more than a bit of leg room.

  14. Funnily enough I’ve just got back from a Bloc Party gig in Manchester and here they are in the background music.

  15. That was cool but I’m going to gripe about internet video makers for a second: if you quote a track of music in your film at least have the grace and good form to put a credit at the end of your movie in there. Give props where they are due folks. I do realize if you click through to the guys Flickr page you can see it’s a Bloc Party tune but a thank you in the video at the end is really, if you ask me, the only way to give proper recognition every time the video is viewed.

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