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30. Expedition day 13: Shooting from La Silla
Date: 06.4.2014
Location: La Silla Observatory
Altitude: 2400 metres
Coordinates: 29°15'40.3"S 70°43'52.7"W


Hi, Babak here!

Today is our last full day of shooting before we leave for Santiago tomorrow afternoon. We still have a lot of work planned here at La Silla before the ESO Ultra HD expedition comes to an end.

Last night we unfortunately faced the bane of every astronomer and astrophotographer — cloud! Expedition day 13, unlucky 13? La Silla has more than 300 clear nights per year, so we were rather unlucky to have to battle with this rare sight. As a result of the weather, the telescopes were closed around midnight and by 04:00 they were still closed. We had no choice but to pack up as there was no improvement in the weather and instead decided to go to sleep.


Babak taking an image of Mars above the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky


The rare sight of clouds over the New Technology Telescope (NTT) makes for quite a dramatic shot. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

During the past day, Herbert was able to obtain some 4K footage of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope and the New Technology Telescope (NTT) during the opening of their respective enclosures at sunset.

Tonight we are planning a range of further shots of the NTT and 3.6-metre telescopes, at sunset, during the night and at sunrise — both indoors and outdoors. In particular, we’re keen to take some more transition shots like the fish-eye view below, but in stunning Ultra HD, 4K format.


A time-lapse sequence showing a fish-eye view in the enclosure of the New Technology Telescope (NTT). Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado (josefrancisco.org)

Tomorrow we’ll be packing up and heading back to Santiago before we fly home to Europe. Our adventure is nearly over.

All the best,

- Babak
#ESOultraHD







29. Expedition day 12: Dawn at La Silla
Date: 05.4.2014
Location: La Silla Observatory
Altitude: 2400 metres
Coordinates: 29°15'40.3"S 70°43'52.7"W


Hi all, Yuri here!

We woke up today at the final destination of this Ultra HD Expedition, the La Silla Observatory. We all are excited about finally being at ESO’s first observatory and are refreshed after a long day of travelling yesterday. Thankfully all ran on time and very smoothly. We arrived here as planned at around 22:30 last night.


ESO Ultra HD Expedition team with our truck, taken outside La Serena airport at the start of our journey to La Silla. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi


ESO Ultra HD Expedition team with our equipment after unpacking just outside the hotel area at La Silla at night. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

After this long trip all of us felt tired. Nevertheless, Babak was eager to get to work and take some first images at La Silla. The night was calm, with a clear sky except for some clouds.

Here, ESO operates two of the most productive 4-metre-class telescopes in the world – the New Technology Telescope and the ESO 3.6-metre telescope. La Silla’s excellent site on the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert is also used by many of the ESO Member States for targeted projects such as the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope (as shown below). Inaugurated in 1969, the facilities at La Silla have led Europe to the frontline of astronomical research.


Stars rain down at La Silla. Shown here is the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope which is seen to peek out of its enclosure. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi


A fish-eye view of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, home to the world's foremost extrasolar planet hunter: the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). The Milky Way can be see in all its magnificence overhead. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

It is here at La Silla that we will soon conclude our trip into the Ultra HD Universe. After a good night’s rest, we’re all feeling refreshed and excited about the coming day’s (or should I say night’s) activities. La Silla has more than 300 clear nights per year, providing the perfect backdrop for our 4K shots.

Throughout the day, we will make a tour of the site to scout for good places for our shots. I plan to take evening and night images from sunset to sunrise. Christoph also plans to take night shots at La Silla with his favourite type of imaging – time-lapse photography. Babak plans to take some more night shots and maybe some time-lapses. Whereas Herbert, as the only one of us to not be functioning nocturnally, will take advantage of the sites during the day and capture astronomers at work before getting some shut-eye.

Eyes to the skies!,

- Yuri
#ESOultraHD







28. Expedition day 11: Journey to La Silla
Date: 04.4.2014
Location: ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF)
Altitude: 2900 metres
Coordinates: 23°1'28.729"S 67°45'16.588"W


Hi, Babak here!

All went well during our last night at Chajnantor. We have a long journey ahead of us today as we make our way to La Silla. I’m writing to you quickly in the early hours of the morning as we soon have to set off for Calama airport.


The antennas of the ALMA array look up towards the star-filled skies. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

Last night, Christoph took some additional time-lapses at the Operations Support Facility (OSF) whilst Yuri and I drove down towards San Pedro de Atacama to take some long-distance shots of the ALMA OSF area. The night was calm and relatively warm with classic Chajnantor Plateau clear skies. Clouds appeared only occasionally as we took our last shots at the ALMA Observatory and headed home earlier than usual in preparation for the day of packing and travelling ahead.


The Milky Way glitters brightly over ALMA. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

We will leave ALMA at around 9:15 today and it is about a two-hour drive to Calama. From there, we will drop off our 4 x 4s at the car rental before we catch our flight to Santiago. All our equipment will follow us as we take a connecting flight to La Serena, where we should arrive at around 18:20.



Yuri and I during our night of photography near ALMA. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

Flights in Chile often offer views of some fantastic scenery. On the two-hour flight from Calama to Santiago today we have the Andes to our left and the ocean to our right. You can see a vast stretch of desert across the mainland and the glistening of the clear blue ocean and the dusty sand dunes. At this time of year, the Chilean winter is approaching fast. Along the Andes you will see the snow-peaked mountaintops among the red, Martian-looking terrain below. En route you may also be able to spot Paranal, Cerro Armazones and La Silla.


This photo from the ESO archive may give you an idea of the scenery we will see as we fly along the La Silla Observatory ridge, looking east. Credit: ESO

Once we arrive at La Serena, we will pick up our new rental 4 x 4s and make our way to La Silla for another two-hour drive. We’ll then check into our hotel at La Silla at about 21:00. After a long day’s travelling we might head straight to sleep, but who knows if we can resist taking a few shots before we go to bed. :)

All the best,

- Babak
#ESOultraHD







27. Expedition day 10: Last day at ALMA
Date: 03.4.2014
Location: ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF)
Altitude: 2900 metres
Coordinates: 23°1'28.729"S 67°45'16.588"W


Hi, Christoph here!

It’s our last day here at the ALMA Observatory. At some point you need to just hang out by yourself for an hour or so, and relax a bit by trying to capture the magic of ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF). The place and people are truly inspiring – it's like a huge family working here, under the stars.

Unfortunately I can't sleep with the earthquakes. We are working pretty non-stop, and beam ourselves to ALMA antennas on Chajnantor twice a day (and night). Collecting cameras in the morning and setting them up before sunset, all at different locations. At any time during the day, the landscape (and altitude) is breathtaking. The night was once again spectacular although much warmer than previous nights. I even caught a super fireball over the ALMA antennas, which we will show you later. What a sight!


ALMA antenna at night. Credit: ESO/C. Malin

Yuri caught a view at night of one of the ALMA antenna transporters, Otto, at the high site. This is one of the two transporters – Otto and Lore – which are used for repositioning of the antennas. The twin vehicles are 20 metres long, 10 metres wide and 6 metres high, and each has 28 tyres. The ability to relocate the antennas is part of what makes ALMA a very powerful telescope. The custom-made truck was brought up to the platform yesterday and stayed there during the night to be ready to relocate an ALMA antenna within the array at the high site later today. This delicate action will take around two hours and requires the utmost attention from the transporter team.


Night view of one of the ALMA transporters, Otto, at the ALMA high site on the Chajnantor Plateau. Credit: ESO/Y.Beletsky

Herbert, who is on a different sleep schedule to Babak, Yuri and I continued the work he did yesterday with daytime shots at the OSF with general shots and views of astronomers at work. After meeting at breakfast this morning, the rest of the team has headed to bed after a night of photography from sunset to sunrise.



Herbert shooting ALMA array distance shots. Credit: ESO/C. Malin

Tonight, we aim to produce some more distant views, from the south this time, as we spend our last night on the Chajnantor Plateau. Since we are travelling to the La Silla Observatory tomorrow, we aim to go to sleep at around 02:00 as opposed to staying up for the entire night, in preparation for the long journey ahead, starting early tomorrow morning.

Until next time,

- Christoph
#ESOultraHD







26. Expedition day 9: Perfect Skies Over ALMA
Date: 02.4.2014
Location: ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF)
Altitude: 2900 metres
Coordinates: 23°1'28.729"S 67°45'16.588"W


Hi everyone, Herbert here!

Every morning so far we have had a brief handover. We meet over breakfast at the Operations Support Facility (OSF) once the others have got back down in the 4x4s from the Array Operations Site (AOS) after their night’s work and before they go to sleep. I then start my day taking some daytime shots at the OSF.


I snapped this 4K photograph of an ALMA transporter in action. These mighty machines arranged the dishes into the formation it has today. Credit: ESO/C. Malin

Last night we were greeted at the OSF by an ALMA safety officer who told us about the 8.2-magnitude earthquake that had struck northwest Chile. With the epicentre around 500 kilometres from us, the tremors did not hit us as hard here — but our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of the victims of this tragic event.

At the time of the earthquake, the team was split into two groups. Christoph and I were in the car, driving down from the Chajnantor plateau where the cameras had been set up for the night ahead. The journey was rather bumpy, so we did not feel the effects of the earthquake whilst on the road — however Yuri and Babak did. Whilst taking some shots in a canyon close to the Operations Support Facility (OSF), they both suddenly felt dizzy and thought it was due to altitude sickness. It was only after their shooting session that they were told of the earthquake. The wonderful staff at ALMA supported them with a safety officer as Yuri and Babak then drove up to the platform to take some splendid images.


A time-lapse image of the ALMA array looking up at the stars. Credit: ESO/C. Malin

I have to say that this night at Chajnantor was simply perfect. The best one by far. The photographers reported an intriguing phenomenon that occurs at high altitudes. Upon arrival at the high site, the stars did not appear as bright as they are supposed to be. After inhaling extra oxygen however, the stars shone brighter and the dimmer stars were transformed into twinkling versions of themselves. This curious biological trick of the eye is due to the lack of oxygen, or hypoxia — which affects the eye’s ability to see as effectively, especially at night.



The Milky Way glitters above the ALMA array in this image. Taken from a time lapse sequence, the camera’s sensor is not affected by high altitude in the same way as the human body as the stars shine brilliantly overhead. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

After this long night of imaging at the array, Yuri, Babak and Christoph went to sleep after we met at breakfast this morning. For me the day has just begun. Tonight we’ll take some distant shots from the north from APEX – the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope, which also studies the cold, dusty and distant Universe, being the pathfinder for ALMA.

With our expedition now past the halfway point, I’m looking forward to sharing more Ultra HD material with you. Here’s a HD compilation that some of the team took back in 2012 to give you a taster of what we aim to bring you.


(note that this material has been edited especially for broadcast use, without commentary or music). Credit: ESO/C. Malin (christophmalin.com)/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)/José Francisco Salgado (josefrancisco.org)

All the best,

- Herbert
#ESOultraHD







25. Expedition day 8: Capturing the Clear Cool Cosmos
Date: 01.4.2014
Location: ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF)
Altitude: 2900 metres
Coordinates: 23°1'28.729"S 67°45'16.588"W


Hi, Yuri here,

WOW! It what a busy past 24 hours!

After we arrived at the ALMA Observatory, the team went through the mandatory medical exam yesterday to check that our bodies can cope with the high altitude conditions here on the Chajnantor Plateau. Luckily, all of us passed the tests! :) However, human operations at the Array Operations Site (AOS) are limited to an absolute minimum due to the extremely high altitude, but of course we are working hard to deliver as many stunning shots as we can in the limited time we have at 5000 metres. I guess the experience there is a bit like diving or space walking (not that I have actually done either).

In the evening, we split up at the OSF facility and formed two teams. We drove up to AOS and started shooting. As Christoph needs to set up his equipment way before sunset for his transition shots, he and Herbert drove up to Chajnantor at 16:00. Later, much closer to sunset, Babak and I came guided by an ALMA Safety Officer. We all met at the ALMA plateau.


Babak and Yuri on Chajnantor plateau just before sunset. Credit: ESO/UHD Team

We all noticed a considerable drop in temperature during sunset. It was so cold and windy up there, but such a beautiful light – the night had not even started!


Christoph setting up his timelapse rig before sunset. Credit: ESO/UHD Team

Christoph set up his equipment in the meantime. His equipment ran independently throughout the night allowing his “TimeLapse Bots” do the work – an autonomous GBTimelapse Rig, using Intecro XTPower powerbanks for powering a Emotimo TB3 motion control and a Canon 6D. Using this easy-to-use and intuitive set-up of equipment really extends our creative possibilities. It has been the perfect addition to our equipment collection since it allows us to get slow slides, tilts and pans into our time-lapses as the stars move over ALMA. They are so versatile and take all the dust from the desert.

Babak and I started to work after sunset. The night was very good and crystal clear. Up on the plateau, you feel on the very top of the world at these great heights and the stars seem within your grasp – the atmosphere is so steady and the sky so dark. We witnessed many meteors – many more than in our previous nights at Paranal. Throughout the night, numerous lightning strikes from the Bolivian side illuminated our horizon.



Our stunning Milky Way Galaxy illuminating the antennas at ALMA. Credit: ESO/Y.Beletsky

Christoph and Herbert drove back to the OSF at sunset and the others stayed on the plateau. In the night the temperature dropped well below zero degrees (we don’t know exactly how cold, but the night before was -10°C). After our shooting, we also returned as we were just too exhausted from the long trip, early morning start and trying to re-synchronise our bodies again to working throughout the night and to the very different conditions.

Today, Herbert will film during the day at the OSF and in the afternoon we will venture up to the AOS once again, where we will take some deep night shots of ALMA illuminated by the cosmos.

I’m off now — ready for some hours of much-needed rest.

Signing off,

- Yuri
#ESOultraHD







24. Expedition day 7: Journey to ALMA
Date: 31.3.2014
Location: ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF)
Altitude: 2900 metres
Coordinates: 23°1'28.729"S 67°45'16.588"W


Hi all, it’s Christoph!

Yesterday, we left Paranal with our two 4x4s jampacked with all of our gear and began the five-hour journey through the barren, arid Chilean desert. We’ve now reached the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Observatory safely after a smooth drive, but I’d like to first tell you a bit more about a few of the sights we passed on our way.


I took this photo en route to ALMA as our second expedition truck kicked up the desert dust. You can see here how remote the Atacama environment really is! Credit: ESO/C. Malin

From Paranal, we drove back past Antofagasta (See Expedition day 2: The Journey to Paranal), then headed northeast, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn — the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be directly overhead (23° 26' 14.440" south of the equator to be exact). After about three hours we reached the small town of Baquedano. In 1910, mining was a thriving industry in the region, bringing with it a boom in cargo and passengers to be transported. The town grew up around a great railway complex, much of which is still in operation today.


The Baquedano Train Museum. June 4, 2008. Credit: Carly Lyddiard

Later we passed the prominent Chuquicamata copper mine — by excavated volume the biggest open-pit copper mine in the world. Chile produces a third of the world’s copper, accounting for some 20% of the Chilean GDP and 60% of the country’s exports. A little later we reached Calama — one of the driest cities in the world — and we passed close to the famous Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).



Valley of the Moon near San Pedro de Atacama. Credit: ESO

The time passed by relatively quickly with these intriguing sights along the way and after around five hours on the road, we finally reached the ALMA site for the next stage of our expedition.

After check in, we took the chance to take some shots. This imaging session was more to get used to the higher altitude and to capture the environment around ALMA Observatory. The view of the volcanoes in the San Pedro de Atacama area is one of the most stunning scenes in Chile. The symmetrical cone of the iconic dormant volcano, Licancabur stands high above the Atacama Desert in the image below and can be seen from almost anywhere around ALMA base camp, the Operations Support Facility (OSF).


A wide angle image taken by Babak from just below the ALMA camp — a small canyon that crawls in the Altiplanto. The dormant Licancabur volcano — is visible at the horizon. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

You can also see Saturn rising on the right of this photograph and the bright star Arcturus shining in the centre of the night sky. Higher up, the noticeable group of stars known as the Coma Berenices star cluster can be seen well with unaided eyes. The glittering Universe provides us with plenty of opportunities to identify objects as we capture their splendour in Ultra HD quality :)

We’re looking forward to sharing more shots with you at our new location in the next few days so stay tuned!

Until next time,

- Christoph
#ESOultraHD







23. Expedition day 6: Onwards to ALMA
Date: 30.3.2014
Location: Cerro Paranal, Chile
Altitude: 2635 metres
Coordinates: 24°37'34.0"S 70°24'12.0"W


Hi, Herbert here.

Today we are packing up our belongings here at the Paranal Observatory Residencia and travel to our second ESO astronomical site, the ALMA Observatory. We plan to leave at noon, after backing up material that we took last night. We’ve gathered a great deal of 4K footage at Cerro Paranal, which we look forward to sharing with you on our return to Europe.


Christoph and I loading the equipment into one of our trucks early in the morning. Credit: ESO

Last night the conditions were very good once again, but winds increased towards midnight. Babak made a trip to Cerro Armazones, guided by E-ELT staff, to take long-distance shots of Paranal and some shots at the site of the future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). I didn’t get any feedback from him so far. Some photographers did not shoot throughout the night, as we have a long journey ahead of us today.


Babak captured this star trail single shot exposure (of just under an hour) from where the E-ELT will be sited on Cerro Armazones. Credit: ESO/B.Tafreshi (twanight.org)



Astronomers returning from a long observing night. This picture captured them at the entrance to the Residencia, where they were coming in to discuss their impressions of the past night. Credit: ESO/Y.Beletsky

The drive to ALMA Observatory will take us quite a bit longer than the journey from Antofagasta to Cerro Paranal. We should arrive at the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) at around 18-19:00 — about a 6-hour trip — giving us just enough time to check-in and eat dinner before a good night’s rest.

ALMA is 5000 metres above sea level on the Chajnantor Plateau — making it one of the very highest and driest astronomy sites in the world. We will have to adapt to these new heights in the vast expanse of this desert environment and will need to drink lots of water to keep hydrated.


ALMA from the air. The array consists of 66 giant antennas, each observing the depths of the cool Universe at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths in search for our cosmic origins. Credit: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier (wingsforscience.com)/ESO

After a productive few days in Paranal, we’re looking forward to capturing ALMA Observatory in all its 4K glory this week, so stay tuned!

Until then,

- Herbert
#ESOultraHD






22. Expedition day 5: Sunset Over Paranal
Date: 29.3.2014
Location: Cerro Paranal, Chile
Altitude: 2635 metres
Coordinates: 24°37'34.0"S 70°24'12.0"W


Hi all,

I write to you on our fourth and final day here at Paranal. Soon we have to pack our equipment for our transfer to ALMA later today for the next stage of our expedition. But before we do, here’s a brief run through some of our latest activities.


A panoramic shot of the VLT platform with the red shades of airglow visible overhead. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

During yesterday’s sunset, night and sunrise, we took some distant shots of Paranal, mainly from the east towards VISTA - the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy. From here you can see all the telescopes in action from afar, set against the clear sky, which makes for some of the most stunning shots.

All in all, the night went beautifully. We had a brief worrying moment just after sunset when we had to pause our photography due to some cloud coverage. Fortunately, the clouds soon cleared and we were up and running again after just 30 minutes :)

Like the previous night, airglow emission dominated the night sky. This shows up as the deep red shades in the panoramic shot of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) platform, which are not defects! In fact, this is the weak emission of light by our atmosphere — an optical phenomenon which causes the night sky never to be completely dark even when there is no light pollution.


Shooting didn’t have to be put on pause for long as the clouds subsided, revealing the starry night skies once more. Credit: ESO/UHD Team

We spent most of our time on the VLT platform, taking images and time-lapses from various spots and getting lots of splendid shots.


The Orion Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula visible in a single exposure Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

In fact, the image above was achieved by a single exposure. Normally, this kind of image is the result of a montage of images however, due to the pristine conditions at Paranal and the advanced camera technology, we are closer to the stars than ever!

Until next time.

Babak
#ESOultraHD






21. Expedition day 4: VLT Takes Centre Stage
Date: 28.3.2014
Location: Cerro Paranal, Chile
Altitude: 2635 metres
Coordinates: 24°37'34.0"S 70°24'12.0"W


Hi, it’s Christoph,

Following our second night here at the Paranal Observatory, we took some beautiful night shots of the VLT. As you can imagine, astrophotography is very much a nocturnal sport and so Babak, Yuri and I are turning into quite the night owls as we synchronise our sleep-cycles with the stars. Herbert needs the daylight to film video, so our schedule overlaps in the morning and late afternoon.


One of the Unit Telescopes with the Milky Way illuminating the VLT platform. One of the Auxiliary Telescopes can be seen to its right. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky



Babak at work on the VLT platform alongside Auxiliary Telescope 3 (AT3). Credit: ESO/C. Malin



The Milky Way Galaxy seen to point down to the VLT platform on Cerro Paranal – to the left, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds. Credit: ESO/C. Malin

The night was exceptionally quiet (almost no wind) and calm. Airglow emission again dominated the whole sky. Just after midnight, at ~00:30 we witnessed an incredibly bright meteor, which appeared on the eastern part of the sky illuminating everything around. Unfortunately, none of our cameras were pointing at that part of the sky. Such a pity! Here’s it captured from the Paranal Mini All-Sky Cloud Observation Tool (MASCOT).


The incredibly bright meteor (at left of picture), as seen from the Paranal Mini All-Sky Cloud Observation Tool (MASCOT). Credit: ESO

On the agenda today, I will be taking some more footage outside before sunset, then joining Herbert to take some interior shots. Meanwhile, Babak plans to take night shots and timelapses at the Paranal Observatory. This is our second to last night at this stunning location and we are filling our time collecting an abundance of 4K footage, stills, panorama stills and fulldome stills using our Canon EOS-1D C camera. This wonderful piece of technology is designed to venture into extreme environments while maintaining the clarity of 4K footage — making it the perfect companion for our Ultra HD Expedition.

We may also gain an insight into the work that astronomers do behind the telescopes as Herbert visits astronomers at work in the VLT control room.


Babak and I at the end of a long but productive night’s imaging. The VLT can be seen in the background as the sun rises to the left of the mountain. Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi.


Eyes to the skies!

- Christoph
#ESOultraHD






 

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Here we will share our thoughts as we embark our revolutionary Ultra HD expedition, explain some of the background of the trip and then take you on our journey to each of ESO’s sites as we capture time-lapses, stills, videos, panoramas in Ultra HD and time-lapses in planetarium fulldome format. We aim to share what is set to be an amazing opportunity throughout our 17-day adventure. We very much hope you can feel you are with us as we provide you with such high-quality resolution at the world’s best sites for astronomy.

 

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Read more about the Expedition in the PDF brochure (26.7 MB)