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Auroras on a Plane—Wild New Time-Lapse Video

Perhaps because he could no longer fly on the Concorde, Air France passenger Nate Bolt decided to simulate what it would be like to fly from San Francisco to Paris—in just two minutes.

In reality, the flight lasted about 11 hours, taking off from California at 3:35 p.m. local time, crossing over Greenland at night, and landing in France at 11:10 a.m. local time.

But instead of packing books and B-movies, Bolt came prepared with a unique form of onboard entertainment: time-lapse photography equipment.

With a whole row to himself, Bolt had lots of room to set up a digital SLR camera, a tripod, and a time-lapse controller, arranged to take pictures out the plane window every 2 to 30 seconds, depending on exposure time. That’s about a picture every two miles, Bolt calculates.

In total he racked up 2,459 still frames that, when strung together, result in a two-minute movie of the world going by.

This is pretty cool in and of itself. But in the dark of night Bolt got an even cooler surprise: a vivid green aurora borealis.

The photographer said couldn’t see the northern lights with his naked eyes, according to The Christian Science Monitor. But when he previewed the long-exposure shots on his camera, the auroras leapt from the LCD screen.

(See pictures of “deep sky” auroras.)

With some viewers wondering how Bolt saw northern lights from a south-facing window, he replied in his YouTube comments:

“Basically, SF to Paris takes you over Greenland and the Arctic Circle, because that’s the straightest route (crazy, I know), so from that location and flying altitude, you can see northern lights from both sides of the plane.”

Lucky duck!


  1. Doctor Doo Little
    April 19, 2011, 10:36 pm

    Psalms 19: 1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

  2. Clintus Maximus
    Boston, MA
    April 19, 2011, 8:15 am

    Amazing video. Perfect music choice as well. Inspiring and creative. Thanx.

  3. 哀伤的个人温
    April 17, 2011, 6:48 pm

    wow its awesome

  4. 哀伤的个人温柔
    April 17, 2011, 6:47 pm


  5. maria
    April 17, 2011, 11:21 am

    Nice one..Love it!

  6. Marcade White
    Louisville, Ky, USA
    April 16, 2011, 11:15 pm

    The music was lame, but once I muted it, the video was much better. The lights were magnificent..

  7. […] su iPhone logró este vídeo timelapse donde se puede apreciar hasta “la aurora boreal”.Vía Auroras on a Plane—Wild New Time-Lapse Video – National Geographic News Watchgoogle_ad_client = "pub-9531254961217821"; /* bloque anuncios 468×15, creado 13/05/09 */ […]

  8. Cristian Eslava
    April 16, 2011, 2:41 pm

    That´s a great tip for make a long flight shorter.

    Nice !!!

    melbourne, Australia
    April 16, 2011, 12:32 pm

    What was that on frame 1:20? Did you see that?

  10. Vinod
    Bangalore, India
    April 16, 2011, 10:40 am

    Awesome! Amazing work! Thank you for the trip 🙂

  11. Tim Gilliam
    North Carolina
    April 16, 2011, 8:50 am

    Thanks for sharing this awesome work. Brilliant! Totally!

  12. FV
    April 16, 2011, 12:25 am

    Video is cool….music is CRAP!

  13. […] Auroras on a Plane—Wild New Time-Lapse Video Amplify’d from newswatch.nationalgeographic.com […]

  14. Cora
    April 15, 2011, 10:41 pm

    Wow! This amazing!

  15. ~Nancy~
    April 15, 2011, 9:08 pm

    That was fun..thanks for the trip!

  16. Paulette
    New Haven
    April 15, 2011, 4:32 pm

    Jonathon, I’ve flown from east to west at night and have seen many lights from the cities below. You may be correct but there is something just before it gets light again, and it’s just very curious. Vegas is the most lit up city I’ve ever seen. Regardless, this was an amazing trip! Oui?

  17. Jonathon Miller
    April 15, 2011, 2:45 pm

    Hey Paulette Ward, those things “burning” are cities. I guess you have never been on a plane at night. I did Vancouver to Amsterdam in January and the Northern Lights are rather faint to the naked eye, but the 30 second exposure on the camera caught it. I’m sure he got prior permission to do his set-up. Well done!

  18. bryce charlton
    jupiter, fl
    April 15, 2011, 9:50 am

    LOL how funny i cant believe this…… this is an outrage……….. get this scumbag out here…….. he reminds me of this kid named farrington…….very trash like

  19. […] Care of National Geographic: Victoria Jaggard […]

  20. Cleo
    Whangarei 23 Purie Park Road NZ
    April 15, 2011, 2:08 am

    WOW! Great idea. But bit scary for me! think i’d pass out!

  21. mozhi joon
    April 15, 2011, 12:44 am

    staying in your seat & flying from San Francisco to Paris—in just two minutes. its very exciting thanks a lot to Air France

  22. Paul S
    CA, US
    April 14, 2011, 11:27 pm

    How did he convince the flight crew to allow his camera setup?? I wanted to try a similar thing but was told I wasn’t allowed to set up my tripod and camera in such a manner…

  23. Christine DiChiara
    Alaska USA
    April 14, 2011, 11:22 pm

    Wow, what a sight, Thanks for sharing the beauty

  24. Paulette Ward
    New Haven CT USA
    April 14, 2011, 2:08 pm

    WOW! How odd that he couldn’t see the borealis, yet the camera could. Makes me wonder what else we’re missing. I was also wondering did I see a bolt of lightning? And something appeared to be burning on the ground for quite a distance. A lot to see in 2 minutes.

  25. Mnimonik
    April 14, 2011, 7:34 am

    It’s really cool idea! I want to fly on that plane. But it’s very scary for me).