Eclipse Photography – Some Notes for the August Event!

Eclipses are exciting whether they be partial, total or annular. On August 21st of this year, the USA will have an awesome opportunity to see a total solar eclipse pass right across the entire country from Oregon to South Carolina.  People have already got their hotel rooms reserved, rental cars spoken for, and plane tickets purchased. Wherever you choose to go, you are likely to wonder about capturing this event by camera. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order (but I will try to keep it logical).

Never seen an eclipse before?  You might want to consider NOT trying to photograph the eclipse at all!  Sit back and enjoy the event. Total solar eclipses are short in duration, totality, that is. At the location of greatest totality duration (Southeast of St. Louis, MO), the totality lasts only 2m 40.2s… that is just almost about 3 minutes in length. You really want to be looking up at the corona at that point and making all sorts of exclamations!

Determined? You really want to capture this with a camera? Ok! Read on!

Initial Words of Wisdom:

Start planning NOW. Obtain your gear as soon as possible. This accomplishes two things: You will have the better choice of gear with sufficient lead time. Closer to the event, gear will be more difficult to buy. Also, you will have time to do this next important thing: Practice with your gear now!  Learn your camera, inside and out. You want to know ALL there is to know about the equipment you plan to use. Be able to use it without manuals! You WILL NOT have time during totality to learn new things about your gear. Play. Try solar photography on every clear day. Learn what works for you and your equipment now.

Wide Field Photography:

Some of the coolest looking eclipse shots are wide field images taken with fisheye lenses or wide field lenses to capture scenery and the eclipse at the same time. You can even set it up to take images every couple of minutes throughout the whole event and get a lovely series.

A video camera set to wide-field and left attached to a tripod will capture the whole event automatically, and will include sounds of the celebrations around you. Aim, turn on, record. Done. A steady tripod is handy. You might also tape a sign onto the tripod stating “do not disturb”. Check out this video from observers in Queensland for their last total solar eclipse. 

Total Solar Eclipse from Queensland Australia

Individual shots: a DSLR or point and shoot camera should be on a tripod. You can take images at short exposure lengths 1/500s or faster depending on your ISO. This will capture the day-lit scenery and the sun. If the camera is well mounted, be sure to aim the middle of your eclipse series towards the center of the frame. Below is a typical wide field setup: a DSLR with 16mm fisheye on a stable tripod. Note that many new DSLRs also have the capability to shoot video <hint hint>.

Wide field imaging setup.

A Nikon D7000 with 16mm fisheye lens for wide field photography. This will capture good images of the surrounding scenery and the eclipse at the same time. No need for a solar filter here. The tripod keeps it all stable.

Below is an image taken with a Nikon D810 at 100 ISO f/8 for 1/640 second exposure. It was resting on a tripod and released manually (i.e. finger on the shutter release button). Shorter exposure times will show less of the scenery, but might show the sun and the corona a little more clearly.

Fisheye image of sun at noon.

This image taken with the setup seen in the photo above, a D7000 ISO100 1/640s f/8 on tripod with 16mm fisheye.

If you have manual focus: set it to manual and focus it onto a distant object and then leave it there. Also, set the ISO, shutter speed and f-stops (aperture) and leave it on manual mode. You will then see the surroundings get darker at totality instead of having the camera keep trying to take properly exposed shots in the darkness of totality.

Many cameras have built in interval timers. Set it up, start the sequence and go enjoy looking at the eclipse!

Telephoto/Telescope:

This gets a little trickier. First and foremost a WARNING: YOU NEED A SOLAR FILTER for your camera and your eyes! DO NOT MESS AROUND HERE. The sun will cause irreversible harm to your eyes if you look at it. It will do more harm more rapidly if you use a telephoto lens without proper filtration!  Got it?!  Good!  This is really important!!!  

Appropriate filters are those made for solar observing and DO NOT include welder’s glass, exposed film negatives, sunglasses, and similar. Good filter material:  Baader Solar Film. You can buy a lot and make a ton of filters for your cameras and friends’ as well.  Buy it NOW or you will find it much more difficult to get closer to eclipse date.

You can buy Baader Solar Film on Amazon.com.

A filter should be placed in front of your lens until just the second before totality. This protects you and the camera and the lens. You can then watch the eclipse as it progresses. I recommend taping the filter onto the lens hood to protect it from being blown off by wind and to prevent interested people from trying to remove it. That is a no no.  Throughout totality and into the moment when Bailey’s Beads are visible, you can take the filter off and shoot without it.

Experiment with your setup and filters well in advance of the eclipse date. Practice using your camera to take solar images. Do this often. Get to know your camera inside and out. Be able to operate it manually without any guide book.

Eclipse imaging setup.

The telephoto setup: a D200 with 300mm telephoto. There is a Baader solar film filter on the front. A right angle viewfinder is attached. This was a windy day! The sturdy tripod helped a lot.

Tripod: You need one with telephoto lenses.  You need a sturdy one.  The sturdier, the better. For a 300mm lens on a full frame (FX) camera, I use a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 055 Aluminium 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column.  There is also the issue of the tripod head. I use one with slow motion controls, also a Manfrotto item: Manfrotto 405 Pro Digital Geared Head. These are not inexpensive items! Whatever you use, the ability to slowly move the pointing as the earth rotates is very helpful. It just has to be stable as a rock.

A word about tracking: Some of you will be tempted to go find an astronomical tracking mount for this event… thinking that you can mount the camera onto the mount and just let the thing track through the event automatically. If you have not done this before, avoid the temptation. A good tracking mount is much more expensive, as it has to be massive to hold your lens and camera combination. Alignment with the earth’s rotational north pole is not easy in daytime. You will need batteries or another power source to drive it. Just no. It is EASY to manually track the sun in a camera’s viewfinder. Keep it simple. Travel lighter. Save money. If you’re a pro and plan on doing this, then you already know what you are up against. No need to discuss this any more.

Lens:  A DSLR and a telephoto from 300mm up will be great. 300-400mm lenses are more than adequate for some excellent photography…. There is no need for a massive telescope with 8” open aperture and 1200mm of focal length. The sun is bright. The sun is also large at some 0.5 angular degree in diameter. If you use a zoom lens, be sure that you can lock the zoom feature. Use duct tape if it does not have a locking feature. Some of them will zoom in or out on their own due to gravity! Not fun if you are trying to keep things equal throughout the event.

Here is an image taken through a 300mm telephoto using a Baader solar film filter. It has been cropped but kept at 100% scale from the camera:

Partial eclipse image

Partial phase of the 1 August 2008 eclipse seen from Novosibirsk, Russian Federation. Nikon D200 and 300mm telephoto, iso1000 1/5000s f/7.1

Camera: The camera will be better if it has manual controls and manual focus. Having a remote shutter release is good in that it will reduce vibrations. Setting focus: With the solar filter on, focus on the edge (limb) of the sun until it is crystal/razor sharp. You might even have a couple sunspots to focus on. Most camera’s autofocus systems will do this nicely. Once focused, switch the camera and lens to manual focus and DO NOT touch it throughout the event. If your camera has mirror lockup mode, you can use that if you wish to reduce more vibration, but you will have to look through the viewfinder occasionally to center the sun, and that requires a mirror.  I never bothered with the mirror lockup feature for eclipses, and my images were fine.  Why setting to manual? You should expect to change the shutter speed and maybe even the aperture throughout the eclipse in order to get best exposures. The moon covering the sun will dim the event, little by little. As totality is reached, you will want to try to capture the inner corona and flares/prominences with short exposures… and then use longer exposures to capture the outer corona, requiring longer exposures. You will be VERY busy at totality.

Large zoom lens setup.

A Nikon D810a with 200-500mm zoom, right angle finder and home made Baader film solar filter. This is the limit for the tripod before things get too shaky. Add a GPS receiver and remote shutter control, and this is a perfect setup.

Working end of D810a and zoom.

The working end of the D810a and massive zoom lens. The right angle finder allows one to be looking away from the sun while taking photos. Add the shade of a rimmed hat and the extended cardboard from the filter assembly, and taking solar photos is a snap!

File Types: Most modern DSLRs, and digital cameras in general, allow one to select various modes of shooting: High, Medium, Low resolution, Raw, NEF, etc. My recommendation is to have your camera shoot both high resolution Raw images and JPGs as well.  Depending on your camera make/model, this will result in raw images of type NEF, RAW, or CRW and also store JPGs. These raw images can be edited much more cleanly than JPGs. Images will be large! Have memory to handle this. My last eclipse trip saw 350 images in all from eclipse start to finish. Also turn off any compression modes and image processing (sharpening, etc) that cameras are likely to do. Set your camera’s time and date as accurately as you can using Universal Time. If you have a GPS attached, then this will be taken care of for you. 

Totality: Much has already been written about what you can expect to see during totality. You have to decide what you are going to do, and in what priority. Some will want to just look up and enjoy. Others will want to take as many photos as possible. Assuming you are going to take as many photos as possible, read on.

  • Right before totality, you have the option to remove the filter and try to capture Bailey’s Beads. With the camera on high-speed multiple exposures, take as many images as you can, as fast as you can. You can also get the Diamond Ring Effect if your timing is good. Another option here: try to get both the beads and the ring effect at the END of totality. It happens on both sides!  
  • Remove the filter!
  • Take many photos at many different exposure times. Long exposures will show the outer and fainter corona. Shorter exposures will show the brighter inner corona and prominences. If you take a series of images with a wide range of exposure values, then you can combine them using high dynamic range software to get some amazing imagery. 
Inner corona image

A short exposure of the 1-Aug-2008 eclipse. Note the small red prominences and just a hint of the corona. The human eye will see more corona than this photo shows. Nikon D200 300mm iso1000 1/6400s f/7.1 

Outer corona image.

Long exposure photo of the same eclipse showing the fainter outer corona. Nikon D200 300mm iso1000 1/160s f/7.1

Gadgets: Below listed are some helpful things to have around. Not all are necessary. Take what you think would be helpful.  

  • A good watch.
  • GPS receiver/geotagger attached to the camera: these can log your position and the time onto each image you take. Great if you are doing science or working with the Mega-Movie-Photo-Team.
  • A right angle viewfinder for the camera: this is really helpful, as it allows to look down into the camera viewfinder instead of at the same line as the sun. Combined with a brimmed hat, this is a really nice gadget to have. Some also have 2x magnifiers which help with focusing.
  • Batteries: for all your goodies like the camera, GPS, cell phone, etc. A Charger is also handy. You are not too likely to need to change freshly charged batteries in the middle of the eclipse unless your camera loves to eat them up :-/ 
  • Extra Memory Cards for the camera.
  • Compass: not all that helpful, but just in case you need to find south…
  • Pencils and pens and notebook.
  • Maps: in case you need to avoid weather, having a paper map of the area is helpful.
  • Bug spray: sometimes bugs can really bug you!  Mosquitoes will come out in at totality.
  • Sunscreen: yep – sun burns are no fun.
  • A brimmed hat: this helps to block sun from your seeing the camera’s field of view properly.
  • A vest with a ton of pockets: to hold tools, parts, lenses.
  • A pocket knife (Swiss Army style with tools): handy to attach tripod screws to camera and many other things.
  • Duct tape: there is always a need for duct tape.
  • Plastic bags: to cover camera and gear against rain and dust.
  • Water and food: keep yourself energized and hydrated.
  • Microfiber cloth and lens dust-off-bulb: helps to clean the optics and the viewfinder window.
  • Your glasses and or contact lenses. Have an extra set.
  • Solar eclipse glasses. These are fun and allow you to see the eclipse with the unaided eye while it is in the partial phase.
  • An odd one: Permission to be where you are located!  Be mindful that it will be easy for you to be tempted to trespass onto lands for which you do not have permission! In case you do venture onto unknown property, bring photo ID with you. 

Links to other helpful sites:

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SDSS BOSS Plate 6192

Thanks to the fine carpenters at the Academy, we now have our Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) plate mounted and hanging on my classroom wall. It has been encased in a wooden box filled with ornamental lights, giving it that astronomical view. 

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192 in its display case.

The plate has a bunch of markings on it to help astronomers with the data collection process. Fiber optic bundles are grouped together such than each bundle gets a section of the plate bounded by a black border. Blue circles around the openings correspond to the galaxies locations for which spectra are being collected. The black circles around the holes correspond to guide star locations in the field. 

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192 on display in classroom

Information on the plate itself is rather interesting. This is a plate for the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) which has the goal of mapping baryon acoustic oscillations signatures by looking at the spectra of some 1.5 million luminous red galaxies. The survey will help astronomers to place limits on the universe’s expansion rate, and more! The plate here was used to hold optical fibers on the SDSS telescope’s focal plane so that each fiber, attached to a hole on the plate, captures light from just one galaxy. That light is then funneled down the fiber optic path to a spectrograph. 

  • SDSS BOSS Plate 6192/56269
  • Observed on MJD 56269 (8-December-2012)
  • Plate center: RA = 7.98654794692993, dec = 16.3795967102051
SDSS BOSS Plate 6192

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192’s field of view as seen by the SDSS

The SDSS then converts all the spectra to plots and measures their z (redshift) values, among other things. One spectra from the many on this plate is below:

SDSS BOSS Plate 6192 Spectra

Spectra of one galaxy from the SDSS BOSS Plate 6192.

 

 

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That Funny Figure 8 Shape

We have come a long way since the days of photography with film (and YES I still use film when it is warranted)… digital cameras have made this particular project a lot less worrisome and a lot easier, though it is still not without its challenges. The goal: take 50 plus images of the southern sky at clock noon throughout the year to catch the solar path, the analemma.  We were blessed with a clear winter solstice day this past December, so I said “why not give it s try… again…?” So here I am, now into the last week of January and with a slew of good images… not great… but ok. Key Points:

  • It is more often cloudy at noon than not. 
  • I am usually busy at noon and no place near the camera’s location.
  • A wide field lens on the camera, a solid tripod and registration marks in the viewfinder make this easy. There is no need to permanently mount a camera these days.
  • Photoshop makes combining images and getting the last bit of perfect alignment easy. 

Here is a shot of two days: solstice to now (29 Jan 2017).  We have two suns!  AND it has moved quite a bit since the solstice.  Days are getting longer. Yay! 

sunsolstice-to-today

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Sun Dogs and Parhelic Circles!

We had some pretty spectacular atmospheric optical phenomena going on this afternoon. Just past noon here in Exeter, I received a text from a fellow science teacher (Scott Saltman) telling me to go out, look up, and bring a camera.  I grabbed a 16mm fisheye and camera with tripod and ran out to find a glorious sky.  Sun dogs are not all that uncommon here in NH, and we usually see them at this time of year, when ice crystals form high in the atmosphere and provide great solar reflections.  Seeing larger arcs, though, is not all that common here. Around the sun was a common 22 degree halo and two sun dogs (parhelia). Passing through the parhelia was an all-sky encompassing parhelic circle! There was also a brighter upper tangent arc – something we very rarely see!  All of this is caused by upper atmospheric ice crystals reflecting the sunlight.  More here if you are so inclined: http://www.atoptics.co.uk/halo/common.htm  The two images below were taken using a Nikon D810a, 16mm fisheye.

2016oct8-sun1 2016oct8-sun2

 

 

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San Pedro de Atacama and ALMA

Getting to the Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) radio observatory is done via road. The nearest town with lodging is San Pedro de Atacama, a town of about 3900 people at an altitude of 2400m (7900 feet). Getting to San Pedro is also by car, about an hour and a half southeast from the city of Calama. Calama has an airport and takes the major jet flights from other cities in Chile.

Calama to San Pedro

Calama to San Pedro: about an hour and a half by car. (Imagery ©2016 Landsat, Map data ©2016 Google)

The landscape is at first barren in appearance, and one would be correct in keeping to this belief: No surprises… it is a desert! Most of the area is dry desert, dry, high-altitude desert. There are occasional stands of trees (government experiments) that run here and there in the regions between towns, but otherwise it is a hard packed sand, gravel mix with lava flows from the volcanic activity which is still very much alive. Arrival in San Pedro takes one off of the highway route 23 and into a world of high adobe packed walls, dirt roads and dust. The landscape is sparse, again from the viewpoint of driving around town. Behind those walls? There are some pretty nice homes in there, trees and gardens, hotels, restaurants, shops: it is a bustling little town full of things to discover and enjoy!

Arriving at San Pedro de Atacama

Arriving at San Pedro de Atacama, a small town with high walls.

People make their way about town on foot, bicycle, and car. One has to be very careful while driving, as there are no street signs, stop signs, warning indicators, etc, and the walls are too high to see around. It is not uncommon to have a swift-moving bicycle cross your path as you drive the streets.

San Pedro Streets

San Pedro Streets: there is a mix of foot traffic and cars everywhere one goes.

Each doorway can lead to any possible outcome! There are restaurants, clothing stores, textile shops, astronomy tourism centers… all located in there!

Streets of San Pedro

The streets of San Pedro – a dusty affair worth lots of investigation! Small shops and restaurants dominate the main part of town.

Located just off to the side of the main square (Plaza de Armas) is the San Pedro church, an active Roman Catholic church, and one of the oldest constructed in Chile. The church is now an historical site along with San Pedro’s oldest structure, Casa Incaica, which dates back to 1540.

Church of San Pedro de Atacama

Entrance to the Church of San Pedro de Atacama, reportedly the second oldest church in Chile, constructed in the 17th century. The patron saint of this Catholic church is Peter.

There are a lot of dogs making their living in San Pedro – they wander the streets and call the whole town their own. People lovingly care for all of them, knitting them sweaters, feeding them throughout the day, and giving a pat on the head. The little fella in the photo below followed us as we made our way to a local bakery – some of the finest croissants in Chile, I must say! He knew where to get a meal!

San Pedro puppies

There are also plentiful dogs roaming around, friendly and happy to receive a handout and a pat on the head.

One does not simply go to Chile and not try the local foods. I happen to love tamales, and they had them, and with llama! Delicious.

Llama Tamales

When in San Pedro: Try the Llama Tamales! They are delicious!

San Pedro is the nearest large town to ALMA. It is a good drive out through the desert to the site. ALMA itself has two main locations, or bases of operation: the “Low Site” and the “High Site”. Altitude makes a lot of difference to human activity! The low site is the Operations Support Facility, the OSF, at an altitude of 2900m. The high site is the Array Operations Site (AOS) and is much higher: 5058m which just takes one’s breath away!

Atacama drive

Driving between San Pedro and ALMA gives an opportunity to see just how lonely it can be here in the Atacama. Not much plant life out there!

Distant volcanoes

Continuing on the drive, the desert offers views of distant volcanoes.

A llama!

A llama! This fellow (fella?) was just wandering around out there. We had no idea what it was able to find for food or drink, but he was owned: there was a little tag on its ear.

Entrance to ALMA requires a few checks:  One has to stop at the entrance gate for some basic safety training, a short safety video and identification with the guards. The view from the main road, Route 23, is pretty spectacular. Volcanoes stretch across the horizon, and they are still geologically active.

Distant geology at ALMA

While stopped at the ALMA entrance gate for checkin and training, the geology was just amazing to sort out! The peaks of these two volcanoes are on the Chile-Bolivia border.

ALMA Low Site Distant

In the distance, the ALMA low site where operations and maintenance take place.

ALMA Low Site

This is what telephotos are for: This is the ALMA Low Site.

Driving to ALMA Low Site

Driving from the entrance gate to the ALMA Low Site: safety is a major concern. There are radio telephones every so many kilometers. The Low Site is visible on the right side of this frame.

Active volcano

An active volcano just off the site!

Once at the low site, there is the constant safety reminder in plain site: UV radiation here and at the high site is usually at the “Extreme” level resulting in terrible sun burns should one not take precautions. I used SPF110 and was ready with hats. In the winter, as when we were there, it is a bit easier to be cautious with UV, as it gets cold up there! Not much skin is exposed.

UV Meter

A UV sunlight meter: safety at ALMA even takes into account the extreme climate’s exposure to UV radiation from the sun. The light never left the blue while we were visiting. SPF110 anyone?

Frigid visits ALMA

Frigid (the penguin) makes his first visit to ALMA, and he needed a lot of sunscreen!

The operations center has the needed controls for operating the whole array. There are basic status boards and controls for every necessary activity on site. Safety demands that people only work at the high site for 4 hours before needing to return to lower altitudes to give their bodies a rest. We were quite happy to have been at Cerro Tololo only days before: that helped a lot with acclimatization.

ALMA control room

ALMA: the low site control room.

ALMA status board

ALMA: The operations schedule and status for the antennae.

Outside at the high site, the antennae were arranged closely together. They are moveable with array sizes ranging from 150m to 14km.

The antennae at the high site.

The antennae at the high site.

Maintenance at the high site is an ever-ongoing process. Technicians are able to be at the site for 4 hours before needing to return to lower altitudes. The antennae need great attention, as they are very sensitive devices. Each is cooled by Helium, powered and placed in precise locations for operations. Keeping all this going in a land that is dusty, windy and experiencing temperature extremes is a big challenge!

ALMA antenna getting some maintenance.

ALMA antenna getting some maintenance.

Antennae below are a little further away from the array’s central cluster on this day. In the background one of the many volcanoes that make the whole area.

Distant antennae and volcanic backdrop.

Distant antennae and volcanic backdrop.

There are two different antenna sizes at ALMA: 12m and 7m.  They receive photons through the <remaining> atmospheric windows between 350 μm and 10 mm. Resolution depends on the array’s configuration, as the whole system operates as an interferometer. They have gotten to 10 milliarseconds, which is a huge accomplishment, as this is 5 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope’s ability, and ten times better than the Very Large Array’s ability.

The author braving the chilly winds and extreme UV at the high site.

The author braving the chilly winds and extreme UV at the high site.

The antennae in the central grouping on this fine, clear day.

The antennae in the central grouping on this fine, clear day.

Safety is a huge issue for ALMA and those that work there. We carried portable cans of Oxygen for a sip here and there. Let me be the first to tell you just how good it felt to get re-oxygenated once levels in the blood got to the mid-70% range. Low levels bring a person to hypoxia, something I am no stranger to as a pilot…. but one of the great equalizers of hypoxia is a general sense that all things are good, great in fact… illusory euphoria. Nice! Having 90% blood Oxygen is good, and it was easy with a quick shot or two from the cans.

This was posed, but still, the need to have some portable Oxygen was really there! We liked those little cans.

This was posed, but still, the need to have some portable Oxygen was really there! We liked those little cans. 😉

Portable blood Oxygen meter. Simply place it on a healthy finger and within seconds a reading is given.

Portable blood Oxygen meter. Simply place it on a healthy finger and within seconds a reading is given. This reading of 79% and heartbeat of 86BPM is indicative of a need to sip some Oxygen from the can.

Getting to a higher point on the plateau, one could see the entire array the day we were there. There was a light amount of snow also present, which was rapidly sublimating away into the very dry desert air.

Does this look like Mars to you? It sure does to me! Not a sign of living things other than those antennae over there!

Does this look like Mars to you? It sure does to me! Not a sign of living things other than those antennae over there!

There is a huge level of technical know-how going on behind the scenes at ALMA. All the antennae have FDDI feeds (fiber optics) to the central processing unit, “The Correlator”. When using many antennae, photons from their object of study arrive at very slightly differing times at each antenna. This is simply a matter of geometry. Photons from one source arrive at the closest antenna first, and hit the most distant antenna last. All this received data has to be aligned temporally before it can be analyzed scientifically. This is the job of the supercomputer called a correlator. The one at ALMA resides at the high site and has the equivalent of 134 million processors… some 20 million solder joints!  That is a lot of power.

The incoming fiber optic lines from the array.

The incoming fiber optic lines from the array.

The author besides one of the many rows of correlator's stacks of circuitry.

The author besides one of the many rows of correlator’s stacks of circuitry. The room hums with fans to keep the whole place at the proper temperature and humidity.

As noted earlier, each of the antennae are moveable, and with some incredible precision. Getting this done is no easy task. A specially designed and built transporter “truck” was designed and constructed just for this task. As an antenna is built and tested, it then must go up the path from the low site to the high site. This beast of a machine gets that done with the aid of very skillful drivers. The transporter has 14 independently steerable (and fully adjustable in height!) wheels, each of which is also independently powered. Ok!  A 14-wheel drive vehicle!  This machine lifts an antenna into a well-held mount and powers both itself and the antenna using two large diesel generators. The antenna must remain powered at all times: remember that it is cooled with compressed, super cold liquid Helium! There are two transporters, named Otto and Lore, and the best part? They can be controlled using a hand held remote control unit.

One of the two antenna transporters.

One of the two antenna transporters.

Local life on the ALMA road.

The auto road from the high site to the low site. This is one of the fauna living wild up there in the Atacama. At lower altitudes there is some scrub brush for them to eat.

One nifty little techy trick is that the iPhone (and many others) have built in GPS and compasses which imbed geo0location metadata into your photos. Here’s the array seen from inside the high site operations center. Yes, that is 16,500 feet.

vert_angle_deg=-4.8 / horiz_angle_deg=-0.2

Imbedded metadata for the photograph while at the high site.

vert_angle_deg=2.6 / horiz_angle_deg=0.2

The sky is so blue!  The air, so thin!

It was very windy and cold out there that day: little worry for a sun burn given that we were so bundled up in June, a.k.a. winter in the southern hemisphere. Frigid had a good time!

The author with Frigid, his beloved traveling companion.

The author with Frigid, his beloved traveling companion.

Coming off the high site and back into the Atacama Desert: not a whole lot of much going on out there.

Coming off the high site and back into the Atacama Desert: not a whole lot of much going on out there. I did want to get a soil sample and test it out for extremophilic bacteria.

If you happen to be visiting the ALMA sites, you are also near one of the most interesting places in the Atacama, the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Yes, there is water out there, but it is VERY salty!  Two large salt flats reside at the high altitude plateau in the Atacama: the Tara and the Aguas Calientes. The salt is pushed up out of the earth by hot springs. As the water evaporates it leaves behind fascinating crystal formations right on the surface of the desert… stretching for miles.

Salt flats in Los Flamencos, along with a volcano and a moonrise!

Salt flats in Los Flamencos, along with a volcano and a moonrise!

It would not be Los Flamencos without a…. flamingos! This particular species is the James flamingo and they just love to eat the brine shrimp that reside in the salty waters. Shrimp? Yep!

A James Flamingo enjoying the hunt for brine shrimp meals.

A James Flamingo enjoying the hunt for brine shrimp meals.

The ALMA trip is a wrap!

ACEAP2016 Group

The ACEAP 2016 Team. Back row, left to right: Charles Blue, Bill Bogardus, John Blackwell, Carmen Pantoja,  Sergio Cabezon, Derrick Pitts, Josh Roberts, Sian Proctor. Front row, left to right: David Lockett, Geneviève de Messière, Michelle Peterson. Photo: T. Spuck (AUI/NSF), not pictured.

More about The Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP), please visit their pages at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory website here: ACEAP.

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