Up on the Plateau

A while back I visited Chile, making films for Deep Sky Videos.

We visited various sites and telescopes associated with the European Southern Observatory, including the Very Large Telescope.

I've gradually been releasing the videos ever since (it is a big editing job).

This week's release was a real highlight - from our visit to Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Located in the barren Atacama Desert, ALMA's main operations are at 2,900m. This means they are just low enough to avoid the designation of "high altitude" for work purposes.

On arrival, we were lucky enough to meet a Deep Sky Videos fan working at ALMA - scientist Denis Barkats.

After medical checks and collecting emergency oxygen cylinders (just in case), we drove up to 5,000m and the main ALMA site, on the Chajnantor plateau.

Not a llama at ALMA but a related vinuca

Not a llama at ALMA but a related vinuca

Parked among the array of dishes

Parked among the array of dishes

Denis joined us and I co-opted him into being our star on camera - he was much better qualified than me to be "tour guide" for the video.

Me and Denis (ALMA in the background just the left of us)

Me and Denis (ALMA in the background just the left of us)

The main ALMA site was remarkable, 60-odd radio antennae scattered across the moonscape like giant robotic chess pieces.

And they really are like chess pieces. Depending on scientific needs, the antennae are strategically moved around the giant chessboard (measuring 20km by 20km) to optimise there performance as an epic interferometer.  

Despite being slightly light-headed and needing to ensure we always moved slowly, I managed to film a few nice clips for the video.

But best of all (and quite unexpectedly), the ALMA staff even "turned on" the telescopes and swivelled them about. 

It was the ultimate high-tech ballet.

Pic: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier ( wingsforscience.com ) / ESO

Pic: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier (wingsforscience.com) / ESO