An astronomer's paradise

By Phil Plait | February 5, 2012 7:00 am

Cerro Paranal, in the high, dry, Atacama desert in Chile, is where some of the best astronomy in the world is done. It’s graced with incredibly dark and steady skies, and a view of the southern hemisphere skies that, frankly, makes me jealous.

So it’s hard to argue with the title of this short time lapse video, An Astronomer’s Paradise:

This was taken by photographer Babak Tafreshi, who alerted me that he had put it online. Watch it to 1:30 in if only to watch Orion rise — upside down, to my northern hemisphere bias! — with colors and texture that are simply stunning.

Isn’t that awesome? And then a few seconds later, he shows a still image of the great Carina Nebula with the four domes of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer silhouetted against the sky. You can get a better look at that at The World At Night website, which has amazing shots of the sky.

I hope someday to make a trip to this part of the world. To see this for myself…

Credit: Babak Tafreshi

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (19)

Links to this Post

  1. Making “Astronomer’s Paradise” | February 28, 2012
  2. Land of Extremes: Chile « KSSU The Blog | March 16, 2012
  1. Yes that was awesome indeed. You think that some company called “Science Getaways” could arrange something to visit there?

  2. sophia8

    Yes, it’s weird seeing Orion upside down like that. He now looks like he’s running headlong after Sirius (no doubt yelling “Fenton!”)

    Sorry about that folks…

  3. Superluminous time lapse thanks BA & Babak Tafreshi. :-)

    Love the Eta Carinae zoom-in at the 2 minute ~ 2 minute 20 sec end point there especially. Mind boggling to reflect that that white speck of a star in the centre of that reddish cloud is a blue hypergiant, 7,000 light years away and doomed to explode – we don’t know when but astronomically soon – which is five million times as bright as our sun. 😮

    What is the bright streak of yellow light seen on the horizon immediately right of the ‘3’ observatory building at the 1 minute, 19 to 28 seconds mark – anyone know?

    Wild suggestion – Comet Lovejoy’s tail – although it does seem far too bright for that surely? Satellite? Seems too “fixed’ and not fast moving enough – ditto for a plane or meteor to explain?

    @2. sophia8 – February 5th, 2012 at 7:53 am :

    Yes, it’s weird seeing Orion upside down like that.

    What’dya mean “weird” and “upside down” that’s how it always and usually looks! How it’s *supposed* to look in fact! [Southern Hemispherer typing here.] 😉

  4. John Phillips, FCD

    Coincidentally, just saw an article on the beeb’s science news page about them finally successfully linking all four of the Paranal ESO VLT optical telescopes together into one virtual 130 metre optical telescope.

  5. I spent a wonderful hour or so out in the dark in Chilean Patagonia a while back, two in the morning in November. Orion upside-down, yes, but my star-maps were from England, so I had to hold’em upside down, then turn over to read them, then turn’em again, very frustrating. Beautiful, high latitude so LMC and SMC were way high in the sky. Air not as transparent as in high desert, but we were in the middle of nowhere, so no city light at all to spoil the view. Just magnificent.

  6. Thank you all for the feedback. The streak at the horizon of the still image at 1 minute 20 seconds is a bright meteor.

  7. DrFlimmer

    Oh yeah, this is so awesome. I am already looking so much forward to October, when I will spend my second observation shift at the HESS telescopes in Namibia. When I was there about 16 months ago, I was quite surprised how many stars are actually visible in Orion.
    Obviously, the northern hemisphere has one major disadvantage: It’s way too light polluted!

  8. Yes, we should overthrow the Northern Tyranny!

    Remember that Mao, Stalin, and Hitler, were all Northerners.

    They are due for a Fall anyway, at least in their Autumn (which will be our Spring).

  9. Ganzy

    @5 Jonathan Lublin

    You weren’t down in region XI by any chance Jonathan? Anywhere near Coihaique? I was trekking down there back in 95 in beautiful surroundings and I remember the night skies were exquisite. I remember that “of course!” moment when looking up at the stars from my sleeping bag, that the constellations were ‘upside down’ :)

    The other buzz came just as we were about to make camp for the night. It was around 9pm and during the last 5 minutes of hiking I was periodicaly glancing up into the night sky, when I noticed two really small wispy clouds scudding across an otherwise cloudless sky. Every now and then I would look up and see them through the silouhette of tree branches and foliage. It wasn’t until we stopped in a clearing to make camp that, I threw my rucksack down and used it as a pillow for five minutes while I rested my aching legs. While scanning the night sky my gaze fell on those scudding clouds again. Now that I was still, I remember thinking that those clouds seem a little odd.. and.. wait a minute, they’re not even moving, how strange!

    A couple of minutes of pondering time, and the answer came like BAM! They are the LMC and SMC.. sweet :)

    Having pointed them out to some of the others in our group, no one knew of or really cared for them. So I had to enjoy the sight and knowledge of them on my own.
    I could understand how they got their names, that they really could be mistaken for little scudding clouds.

    Chile is such an amazing place.

    @3 MTU

    Hey M, do you get a good view of the LMC/SMC from where you are Oz? Are they prominent in the night sky without visual aids? I wish they were a regular feature in our night skys ‘up’ here.

    Thanks Babak Tafreshi and Phil for the sweet time lapse.

  10. Enjoy some more starry views of Chile on The World at Night (TWAN) Chile gallery:

  11. There’s also South Africa! Beautiful country and lots of good spots for stargazing. Not to mention the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

  12. @6. Babak Tafreshi :

    Thank you all for the feedback. The streak at the horizon of the still image at 1 minute 20 seconds is a bright meteor.

    No worries. Cheers for that. :-)

    @9. Ganzy :

    @3 MTU – Hey M, do you get a good view of the LMC/SMC from where you are Oz? Are they prominent in the night sky without visual aids? I wish they were a regular feature in our night skys ‘up’ here.

    Yep, the Magellanic Clouds are easily visible here with the unaided eye – although they do tend to get washed out by light pollution and strong moonlight pretty quickly. The darker the sky the easier and better you’ll see them. In the darkest skies of all you can even see open star cluster NGC 2516 – at the Avior (Epsilon Carinae) end of the “false cross” asterism – spectacularly well with unaided eyesight. :-)

    @8. Gavin Flower : “Yes, we should overthrow the Northern Tyranny!”

    I’m with you there! 😉

    PS. Are you any relation of the erstwhile Zimbabwean cricketers Andy & Grant (wiki-page linked to my name here) by any chance?

  13. Jeff

    yes, that desert is particularly amazing skies, I too envy those astronomers. I have taught astronomy 30 years, and have brought a class or two out every term, but the problem is always the sky seeing conditions plus the human light pollution. I still have an amazing experience out there, but I really envy those Atacaman astronomers.

    I also personally like deserts because that is the place on earth not too overrun by vegetation, as well as seeing the earth’s rocky surface well. I feel closest to being on the moon or Mars when I have the luxury of travelling to Arizona or something, I’ve done many times since I was 15. At least the earth provides these beautiful barren environs. I’m not a mountain climber, but I also like the rocks above the tree line in a typical alpine area, and I even enjoy the glacial environment. Green plants , trees, et al, have a certain beauty, but I don’t like how they interfere with seeing the earth’s surface.

  14. jt

    That was great.

    This is another favorite video from the same place. It’s a smart re-edit of a timelapse video of the VLT site. It shows the sky fixed in place and the earth rotating instead. Very cool.

    The original video. It’s first clip starts with a great wide-angle pan with sunset, then moonset, Milky Way rise, and sunrise.

  15. zohreh mirzaei

    that’s so fantastic……thanks for sharing such a amazing material…
    just thanks 😉

  16. Marc Glez

    Fantastic pictures

  17. lookinup

    What a lovely view we have from this planet!

    I love when the three observatories turn in unison. It’s almost as if they can’t believe what they’re seeing, almost like giant Muppets.


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