One of the world’s largest telescopes has been built in the Chilean Atacama desert. It is called the VLT, which you would think is an acronym for some very long, scientific words. In fact VLT stands for, wait for it, Very Large Telescope. It is so sensitive that the operator’s body temperature can affect readings and is so powerful it can pick up images 4 billion times fainter than the human eye can see.
Hidden Universe is a glimpse into a specialised world that most people will never experience first-hand. Here though, in 3D we are taken over the surface of Mars, see real images of the sun and distant galaxies and take a tour of deep space in the company of pianist and astronomer Dr Jonathan Whitmore and friends.
‘Why’s it so high up?’ asked a man as we climbed several flights of stairs to the screening of Hidden Universe 3D at the Science Museum’s IMAX cinema.
‘Because the screen is gigantic,’ his wife explained.
She was right. Well-raked seats faced a huge digital wall, soon introduced as taller than 4 double deckers. I’m not sure why double deckers were used as a measure but what it represents is 24.3 metres by 16.8 metres. I don’t care how big your telly is, you’re going to be amazed at the size of the Science Museum screen.
The credits shot onto the screen from somewhere behind me and the earth floated into view. The 3D was actually working well, the earth was definitely spherical. A moment later the moon floated past, somewhere in the auditorium. I’ve taken a somewhat Kermodian view of 3D before now, but where it seems a gimmick in fiction, in documentary the 3D was helping to show the different positions of the stars and planets.
The film takes us through images of Mars and distant ‘deep space’ areas of the solar system. It explains the way the telescopes work and introduces us to some of the people who use them. They are able to see the equivalent of fossil records of the universe, indulging in time travel as they complete their cosmic archaeology. It’s enough to make you wish you had done astronomy A-level at school.