Join a planetary observing trip with this 360-degree immersive video.

29 November 2016

This immersive 360 degree video lets you join in a planetary observing trip using some of the world's best telescopes in Hawaii.

To view on a regular screen, you can click and drag in the video frame to look in any direction. For an immersive experience, view the video using a virtual reality headset. A guide to VR headsets can be found here.

Oxford University researchers are trying to understand how our Universe works, on a wide range of scales and using many different tools. Observations of the Earth’s sibling planets Mars and Venus offers insights into how our three planets formed and evolved and how its fundamental processes work. Spacecraft are the best way to study our neighbouring planets, but these can take decades to get off the ground. In the meantime, powerful insights can be reached by using telescopes to observe the planets.

In this video, we join Dr. Colin Wilson, a planetary researcher in Oxford University’s physics department on an observing trip to Hawaii, with colleagues Dr Thomas Widemann and Dr. Thérèse Encrenaz (Paris Observatory) and Pedro Machado (CAAUL, Lisbon). They are using two adjacent telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea – The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and NASA’s Infra-Red Telescope Facility – to measure winds and sulphur dioxide abundances on Venus. The only natural source of sulphur dioxide on Earth is volcanism, so its presence on Venus suggests current or recent volcanic activity on Venus. The amount of sulphur dioxide observed in Venus’s atmosphere is highly variable, which may indicate current, rather than recent, volcanic eruptions - but the sulphur dioxide abundances are affected by weather patterns. By measuring winds and sulphur dioxide concentrations at the same time, Dr. Wilson and colleagues are trying to pin down these elusive traces of volcanic activity, to ascertain whether our neighbouring planet is geologically alive or dead.

This observing trip was part of a wider research project, combining telescope and spacecraft observations of Venus, in which Oxford University was working alongside partners from across Europe. Further films about this “EuroVenus” research consortium’s activities can be found at the project website

The 360 - degree video has proved particular popular as a public outreach tool - the image at right shows an enthusiastic astronomer-to-be at Barton Community Centre enjoying the film on a VR headset.

Many thanks to Emmanuel Rondeau and Julien Coquet at White Fox Pictures for the production of this 360-degree video - and of course also to the many dedicated staff members at the CFHT and IRTF observatories who keep these incredible facilities running.