I was watching the June 3, 2024 video The solar-powered aircraft flying high in the atmosphere | BBC News and saw file footage of what appears to be two astronomical telescope domes in Kenya and a high altitude balloon being launched nearby. There is mention of the Google Loon project and the word "Google" appears overwritten on the footage (a few seconds after this screenshot)

I am not sure if these are for astronomical viewing or not. If this is strictly a Google Loon site, then perhaps they watch their balloons optically (maybe antennas deploy or the payload does something). They would have onboard GPS and telemetry so this would not be for tracking.

On the other hand, perhaps this is really a weather balloon being launched at an astronomical observatory site, for convenience, the balloon has nothing to do with the telescopes and this is just recycled footage that Google used.

Question: Is this an image of an astronomical observatory? Can it be identified? If not, what's behind these domes?

enter image description here


1 Answer 1


It is indeed an astronomical observatory: University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory, located atop Mount John in New Zealand. Coordinates 43°59'6.99"S 170°27'50.76"E if you want to look for it in your favorite map application. The Air Safaris building in the background is part of nearby Lake Tekapo airport, from where the first Loon balloons were launched in 2013 (actually I believe there were some test flights in California before this New Zealand experiments).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Air Safaris logo is the same as the one on the road outside the Lake Tekapo airport (via streetview), but the observatory and the airport are over 2.5 km apart, so I'm having a hard time seeing how you could have two observatory domes in the picture and still be close enough to read the sign on the side of the building. Maybe this is just an extreme telephoto and I'm not used to seeing it, but I also can't figure out what sort of movement could cause the parallax between the domes and the airport that's seen in the linked video. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying the video is faked or anything, I just can't understand what I'm seeing in the context of the geography of Lake Tekapo. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 18:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @DarthPseudonym I was also surprised by the actual distance between the observatory and the airport, as they look much closer in the video. I think it is some kind of optical illusion due to the video camera, some kind of perspective contraction maybe, but I'm far from being an expert in that matter. It could make another question on some SE site related to photography. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ After some thinking, the only possibility I can think of that might produce that weird reverse-parallax movement (the domes stay still while the distant background moves quickly) is if the camera is a high magnification telephoto steadycam on a helicopter (or drone), and they've locked it in to track the observatory domes as the vehicle moves, so that the buildings behind are shifting perspective in a strange way. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5 at 20:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .