High on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes these 58 antennae — eventually to become 66 — make up the largest astronomical project in existence, the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre array (ALMA). Now, the true magnitude of this array has been captured in full HD video as seen in this fantastic aerial footage.
In July of this year aerial photographs of ALMA were taken using a hexacopter, with exciting results. The same craft used for the aerial photography — designed to withstand the harsh conditions of this high altitude region — was then equipped with an HD camera, video stabilizer, GPS, landing gear and signal transmitter.
The craft, with six sets of rotors and all of its parts installed, weighs a total of 2.3 kilogramme. This may not seem like much but at an altitude of 5000 metres above sea level the air is so thin that an object of this weight cannot gain the height it needs. Not to mention the wind which shoves the hexacopter at speeds of up to 35 km/h. In short, getting a video at all — never mind one of this quality — is no mean feat.
The success of this venture was down to some innovative solutions, and a little bit of luck. In order to overcome the altitude problem the team travelled to the ALMA site very early in the morning when the air is colder, and thus more dense. The luck came with the particular stillness of the morning this footage was taken, enough calm to capture the images before winds picked up once again.
Photographer Ariel Marinkovic of X-Cam, who operated the aerial equipment, describes the moment they first captured ALMA in its full glory “We were so impressed by the incredible views of the Chajnantor Plateau displayed on the monitor: The antennas looked like small, shining specks among patches of snow, while their slow turning created a choreography as precise as its counterpart in the skies”.