Live from the top of the world

Over the last few months I’ve had a lot of observing time on Mauna Kea. Unfortunately the weather this year has been dreadful, frequently we lose entire nights due to cloud, humidity or freezing fog. The two telescopes I use most are now run remotely with no observer at the summit so I’m often reduced to staring at the weather information pages begging for the clouds to clear and the humidity to drop.

One of the interesting side effects of so many telescopes on the mountain going remote is that they often install webcams so they can monitor the conditions more accurately. A nice example is the all sky camera on the University of Hawai`i 88 inch telescope. This provides a live view of the sky over Mauna Kea. Not only can you see constellations and planets, you can see the laser guide stars from Keck, Subaru and Gemini as lines on the sky and also a green cross which marks where the UH88 is pointing (hint: in bad weather it’s parked facing straight up). There are also more webcams showing the views near various telescopes. However these look a bit dull in the dark. Still if you are ever giving an outreach talk during the day in Europe you can show a live view of the sky from one of the world’s top observatories.

However the award for the best webcam on the mountain has to go to the CFHT cloudcam. This was recently installed facing from the mountain towards Hilo. It’s really useful as it gives early warning of fog coming over the plateau towards the ridge. While it also gives a lovely view of the sky the best part are the timelapse movies. In a typical move you can see the shadow of the moutain rise as the sun sets, stars and planets rising and aircraft flying into Hilo airport. There’s also a loop marking individual constellations.

A sample view from the CFHT cloudcam showing Orion and Sirius rising. Credit: CFHT

Going through the CFHT cloudcam movies looking for cool stuff is great. Take the spectacular moonless night on the 4th of February where you can see the plane of the Galaxy rise late in the night. Or on the other side, how about supermoon from the 19th of March. These sort of movies look great for talks, live outreach during the day or just to show a class of schoolkids something to stare in awe at.

I’ve just found an ESO webcam from La Silla which gives a lovely view of the Galactic centre. If you know of other good astronomy webcams then put them in the comments thread. Or if you can find a good CFHT cloudcam movie put it there too.

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One Comment on “Live from the top of the world”

  1. […] time-lapse movies showing the rotation of the heavens throughout the night; Niall’s even writen about some particularly lovely examples, filmed at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. However, the movie below is special. It shows things as they really are – it’s not the […]


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