The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA), Spanish for “soul”, is an array of radio telescopes in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. Since a high and dry site is crucial to millimeter wavelength operations, the array has been constructed on the Chajnantor plateau at 5000 meters.
I am not sure I could breath without assistance at that altitude!
The array consists of 66 12-meter and 7-meter diameter radio telescopes observing at millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths. The antennas can actually be moved across the desert plateau over distances from 150 m to 16 km. This will give ALMA a variable “zoom”, similar to that employed at the Very Large Array (VLA) site in New Mexico.
I don’t think that they are going to use this feature that often because of the high sensitivity achieved using such a large number of telescopes that make up the array.
Photo credit: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier (wingsforscience.com)/ESO
Eventually, ALMA is expected to provide insights on star birth during the early universe and detailed imaging of local star and planet formation.
The array was constructed over a period of 10 years in the high desert of the Chilean Andes at a total cost of $1.3 billion and is an international partnership between Europe, the United States, Canada, East Asia and the Republic of Chile.
ALMA began scientific observations in the second half of 2011 and the first images were released to the press on 3 October 2011. The full array began operations last week and the official inauguration of the site was on March 13th, 2013.
– Ex astris, scientia –
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