Backstory - Astronomy in the Atacama

This was to be my first assignment with my new petite and powerful Canon XF105. I loved the camera even before it was in my hands. Purchased over the internet, it arrived only a few hours before I headed to the airport for my flight to Santiago and there was no opportunity for any equipment testing. I read the manual on the plane, and did not feel at all familiar with the device when I first pressed the record button. Fortunately, the camera did not miss a beat. This was always going to be a tricky story to film given the heart of the material was about gazing up at the night sky. However, ESO -- the European Southern Observatory -- offered usage of some brilliant time-lapse video of observatories and stars that perfectly accompanied my daytime filming (and undoubtedly out-shined it!).

This was an inspiring trip with some very special access, including to ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, which is not yet open to the public. Located above 5,000m above sea level, I needed to pass a medical test before being given permission to visit the site. Fortunately, all was in order -- and I headed up to the high-altitude location to see the dozens of antennae which make up the world’s largest astronomical project. It was very cold and very, very beautiful.

Interviews with engineers, astrophysicists and astronomers were, surprisingly perhaps, brilliant. I had expected conversation to be strained, stilted and littered with arcane terminology. Instead, these men and women were consistently engaging and highly articulate about their field of work. They made my assignment fantastically straightforward.

I long to return. In a few years, the Very Large Telescope at Paranal will be superseded by the Extremely Large Telescope -- and I hope I can cover that story.