ALMA, Worlds Most Powerful Radio Telescope Open for Business

October 4, 2011

ALMA, Worlds Most Powerful Radio Telescope Open for Business

ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the worlds most complex ground-based astronomy observatory, was officially opened for astronomers on Monday after ten years of planning and construction.
ALMA is being built on top of the highest plateau (16,400 feet) in the Atacama desert, in northern Chile at a cost 1.35 billion dollars. The telescope, a joint project by the United States, the European Union, Canada, Chile, Japan and Taiwan, will explore some of the darkest, coldest, farthest regions of our universe.
“We went to one of the most extreme locations on Earth to build the world’s largest array of millimeter/sub-millimeter telescopes having a level of technical sophistication that was merely a dream only a decade ago,” said Dr. Mark McKinnon, North American ALMA Project Manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia.

ALMA differs from visible-light and infrared telescopes by using an array of linked antennas acting as a single giant telescope. Most objects in the universe emit radio waves of energy.  ALMA detects these wavelengths, 1,000 times longer than visible light, and uses them to build up a picture of the galaxies, stars and planets hidden away behind the clouds.

The array is currently operating with 19 dishes installed when the project is completed there will be 66 dishes in place.

ALMA could accept only about a hundred or so projects for this first nine-month phase of Early Science. “It was absolutely tremendous to receive more than nine hundred project proposals from astronomers from throughout the world wanting to use ALMA in this first ever science period!” said Lewis Ball, ALMA Deputy Director. “That represents a level of demand which is unprecedented across any ground-based or space telescope.” The successful projects were chosen based on their scientific merit, their regional diversity, and also their relevance to ALMA’s major science goals.

One of the projects chosen for ALMA Early Science observations is from Heino Falcke, an astronomer at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, he will study Sagittarius A a super-massive black hole, four million times the mass of our Sun, 26,000 light years away.  “ALMA will let us watch flares of light coming from around this super-massive black hole, and make images of the gas clouds caught by its immense pull.  This will let us study this monster’s messy feeding habits,” Falcke said.


Publisher: Salient News