This hour-long film takes us on a tour of the Very Large Telescope array in Cerro Paranal, Chile—the most powerful deep-space telescope in the world. We hear the scientists and technicians describe their work and discoveries, and through them get a tantalising glimpse of the cosmos.
I expected to see lots of grand starscapes, as in that IMAX movie on Hubble, but we only see a little bit of those right at the beginning, to get us in the mood. The rest of the movie is very down to earth, a lot of it dealing with life at a compound in the middle of nowhere, and the nitty-gritty details of scientific research and making those ginormous telescopes work. And you know what? This was just as inspirational. The people there absolutely love their work: the phrase “dream come true” comes up at least twice from resident scientists; one relatively minor technician also waxes rhapsodic about the VLT’s work in pushing back the boundaries of knowledge, and awesomely refers to the community of workers as his second family.
But we also hear about the science, and it is beautiful: from the supermassive black hole at the core of our galaxy (indirectly detected from tracking the movements of nearby stars, themselves detectable only by the VLT), to another scientist’s research into extragalactic black holes and how our own black hole applies to that, to monitoring the ancient light of unbelievably faraway galaxies… Man, working there really would be any astronomy geek’s dream come true.
The ESO is planning an even larger telescope array, called the Extremely Large Telescope. The location still hasn’t been decided as far as I know, but one candidate site is not too far from the Cerro Paranal—it’s really an ideal region, high up and very dry all year round. Even now the next generation of astronomers, in high school or university, are dreaming and working and a select few will get to work on the ELT, looking for Earth-like planets around distant stars and studying light remnants from the first generation of galaxies.
PS: The movie was in 3D, which I found pretty unnecessary. I’m no fan of 3D to begin with, and with most of the scenes being talking heads, or indoors, I really didn’t see why I had to wear an extra pair of glasses. Meh. Still, that was the only sore point.