A new virtual reality film is the next best thing to visiting our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. Join Chris Brayton behind-the-scenes in filming Beyond the Milky Way.

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) sits on the ancient landscape of Wajarri Yamatji country in the remote Western Australian outback.

The site is home to high-tech radio telescopes, which require extreme radio quiet. This means there are rare opportunities to experience it in-person.

Setting the scene Beyond the Milky Way

Chris Brayton is one of the lucky few who gets to visit the MRO. He manages the site, working to protect the radio quiet.

“People and the gadgets they bring with them – from cameras, to phones, to smart watches, to cars – can all interrupt the radio quietness that makes the MRO such a great place to do radio astronomy,” Chris said.

“The human-created radio waves from these devices can drown out the signals from space. So having as few people as possible on site is vital to the goals of the radio telescopes we host.”

Chris ensures that his activity doesn’t interfere with the radio telescopes on site.

“Even me going out with a camera and snapping a photo can interrupt telescope operations, so we have to be careful,” he said.

A landscape of red dirt and a pale blue sky with a large white radio telescope dish in the centre-background. The foreground has a young woman bending over a piece of filming equipment and an unusual many-eyed camera on a tripod to the left and another pair of women to the right with one adjusting the microphone attached to the scarf of the second woman.
White Spark Pictures’ Jess Black (left) checks sound levels and camera settings while Beyond the Milky Way‘s writer and director Briege Whitehead (middle) adjusts the microphone on one of the stars of the film, Leonie Boddington (right). Credit: Pete Wheeler, ICRAR.

A rare opportunity

Chris recently jumped at the opportunity to see the site in a whole new light. He spent a few weeks helping White Spark Pictures film the MRO in 360 degrees.

Knowing the site’s unique conditions needed to be protected, writer and director Briege Whitehead worked with Chris and team CSIRO to capture the experience.

Beyond the Milky Way will give people a chance to explore a remote and extraordinary part of the world which few ever get to visit,” Briege said.

Filmed in coordination with all the telescopes on site, the crew took great advantage of special access and pulled out all the stops. Everything from drone flights carrying specialised 360 cameras, through to staying on the MRO all night to film the star-lit sky above the telescopes.

Briege is founder and creative director at White Spark Pictures and has filmed in many exotic locations such as Antarctica. However, being on the MRO was a special experience.

“Filming on the MRO will stay with me for a long time. To see the night sky in such incredible detail and watch the ASKAP telescope follow the Milky Way across the sky was a sight to behold,” she said.

Beyond the Milky Way features many radio telescopes at the MRO, from our ASKAP radio telescope, to the Murchison Widefield Array and, of course, the upcoming SKA.

Starry-eyed viewing

Despite the radio telescopes’ ability to operate 24/7, having permission to be on site overnight is extremely rare. Chris was glad to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

“Being on the MRO after dark was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the night sky above these amazing instruments. While there I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a crack at some astrophotography myself,” said Chris.

Beyond the Milky Way is showing at the WA Museum Boola Bardip from December 2021 into early 2022. It will then tour nationally, including a stop at the Museum of Geraldton. Keep an eye out for the film at a venue near you!

We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji as the traditional owners of the observatory site.

Beyond the Milky Way is a White Spark Pictures production. Principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Screenwest & Lotterywest. Financed with support from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), CSIRO – Australia’s national science agency, the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre, Scitech and Inspiring Australia, SKA Observatory (SKAO), ASTRO3D and Western Australian Museum.

 

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