The giant-screen documentary adventure Hidden Universe takes audiences on an extraordinary journey deep into space in the cinematic medium that transports audiences like no other. With the full power of IMAX 3D cinematography, the deepest reaches of our universe are brought to life with unprecedented clarity through real images captured by the world’s most powerful telescopes—seen on-screen and in 3D for the first time.
Stunning, high-resolution images of space allow movie goers to explore the earliest galaxies, watch stars being born in vivid clouds of gas and dust, tour the surface of Mars, and witness images of distant celestial structures including stunning views of the Sun. Seen for the first time in IMAX 3D, these dramatic new images offer fresh insight into the origins and evolution of the universe.
At high altitude in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the most powerful telescopes in the world
provide the best view of space. These telescopes are capable of seeing objects 4 billion times more faint than the human eye can see. They collect and focus light so powerfully they can see things more than 13 billion light years away. This means they are seeing light emitted from objects 13 billion years ago, the youngest of galaxies, just coming into existence, not long after the beginning of the universe itself.
These tools are expanding human knowledge, fundamentally changing the way we see the universe – it’s shape and size, the speed at which it is expanding, the speed of light itself, which new research suggests may not be the universal constant we thought it was.
“History has taught us that no matter how well we understand a system – be it a biological system like a person or a physical system like a galaxy – when we look at it in a new or more penetrating way, we see and learn new things,” said astronomer Greg Poole. “It’s hard or impossible to say exactly what form these new insights will take – for that is the very nature of scientific discovery – it’s impossible to predict.
Though its name is unimaginative, its observations are astounding: the Very Large Telescope – or VLT – provided the first images of an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system, and has tracked individual stars orbiting the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The VLT is the most productive ground-based facility for astronomy, with only the Hubble Space Telescope generating more scientific papers. It is operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal, an 8,530 feet mountain in the Atacama Desert, and is used and maintained by scientists from all over the world, collaborating to further human knowledge.
The VLT actually consists of four Unit Telescopes, which are generally used separately but can be used together, acting as a single telescope 650 feet in diameter, to achieve astonishingly high resolution. The Unit Telescopes each have a light-gathering mirror 27 feet across, representing the upper limit of optical technology; they are so massive they would break under their own weight if they were any bigger.
In addition to optical light, the VLT sees in infrared, which enables astronomers to learn 7 much more about their subjects. Hidden Universe showcases the infrared imaging that exposed a super massive black hole at the center of the nearby galaxy Centaurus A, and through X-Ray imaging, audiences will see jets of plasma a million light years long, shooting out of the black hole at half the speed of light.
The VLT’s infrared sensors, while providing valuable data to scientists, presented
challenges to the filmmakers. They had to work quickly inside these massive telescopes, and only got one take for many of their shots because they are so sensitive that body heat can distort their readings.
The Earth’s atmosphere also distorts signals coming in from space, especially weak light from extremely distant stars and galaxies. To counter this, the VLT shoots lasers 60 miles up into the sky, creating a fake star, a fixed point, by which to calibrate for the distortion of the atmosphere. In one amazing scene in Hidden Universe called the “Celestial Dance,” lasers shoot from the top of the VLT at irregular intervals during a time-lapse sequence showing the VLT’s four telescopes moving in concert as they track specific stars rotating through the night sky.”
At an altitude almost twice as high as the VLT, at 16,400 feet on the Chajnantor Plateau, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, is a collection of 66 radio telescopes, the largest astronomical project in existence.
ALMA does not detect optical light; the group of 66 giant, 39-foot to 23-foot diameter antennas looks for radio signals from outer space. Each weighs 100 tons – they are so massive they must be built at a lower altitude and transported to the Chanjantor Plateau on a huge, remote-controlled flatbed truck called Otto. The antennas operate together as one giant telescope, to provide images up to ten times sharper than the Hubble. To do so, the 66 antennas and peripheral electronics must be synchronized to within one millionth of a millionth of a second.
As seen in Hidden Universe, the signals ALMA detects come from vast clouds of gas and
dust in interstellar space, at temperatures only a few degrees above absolute zero (-459 F) in some of the earliest and most distant galaxies in the Universe. The temperature and composition of these regions tells us if new stars are being born there. These clouds are often dark in visible light, but they shine brightly in the part of the spectrum ALMA sees, providing scientists with a new way of seeing the cosmos.
Today’s top astronomers are exploring the deepest reaches of the universe in search of answers—and they are using the world’s newest, most powerful telescopes capable of seeing back in time to the formation of the earliest galaxies more than 13 billion light years away.
Viewers will meet two astronomers—Dr. Jonathan Whitmore and Dr. Gregory Poole—as they examine space images from these powerful telescopes, and work to further human knowledge of the universe.
Dr. Gregory Poole, (astronomer), is a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, and a two-time recipient of a University of Victoria Fellowship, R.M. Petrie Memorial Fellowship, and the Governor General’s Gold Medal. As a cosmologist, he uses supercomputer simulations and modern statistical methods to understand the nature and evolution of the Universe’s largest structures. He has extensive experience in classroom lecturing and public outreach, and has been invited to speak at numerous universities including Stanford and the University of Leiden. He is on the steering committee of the Australian National Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and is a member of the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey of 200,000 galaxies. Poole earned his PhD in astronomy at the University of Victoria, Canada.membre du WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey,
Jonathan Whitmoreearned his PhD in physics from University of California, San Diego and is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Extragalactic Fundamental Physics at Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. He collaborates with astronomers from around the world and is a member of a European Southern Observatory Large Program, researching whether universal constants, like the speed of light, are actually constant. Whitmore is an expert on spectroscopy, and has developed new algorithms and methods to analyze high precision astronomical data. He has observed at world-class facilities like the Subaru Telescope at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the Keck Telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory, and the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory. Whitmore has given numerous talks on astrophysics at conferences and universities including Caltech, UCSD, USC, and Swinburne University.
Russell Scott (Director, Writer) earned his chops at the bleeding edge of 3D CGI animation, as lead animator on space films at Swinburne 3D Productions, a leader in high definition 3D animation and visual recreations. He shifted gears to become director at Swinburne 3D Productions, and brings extensive filmmaking knowledge, and a rare combination of analytical and creative skills, to Hidden Universe’s top tier 3D imagery of awe-inspiring deep space phenomena.
Review the Education and View Media sections of the Hidden Universe website to find information and links to existing online educational resources and entertaining activities for all grade levels. You will also gain a greater understanding of the most powerful telescopes in the world featured in Hidden Universe.
- Explore an entire digital collection of earth and space science resources by visiting the NASA Wavelength website.
- Mad about Mars? Review Mars for Educators on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.
- If you’re hot for the sun, check-out the Science of the Sun Guide on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website.
- Discover an out-of-this-world photo gallery with ESO’s Top 100 Images
- And for fascinating news stories, visit space.com, a great source for the latest news on astronomy, space exploration, commercial spaceflight and related technologies.