December 7, 2011
Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)
When completed, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) will be among the most powerful telescopes ever built.
With unprecedented sensitivity, resolution, and imaging capability, ALMA will explore the Universe via millimeter- and submillimeter-wavelength light, one of astronomy's last frontiers.
ALMA will open a new window on celestial origins, capturing never-before seen details about the very first stars and galaxies in the Universe, probing the heart of our galaxy, and directly imaging the formation of planets. It is the largest leap in telescope technology since Galileo first aimed a lens on the Universe.
Compared to current best radio telescope views (at right), the left simulated image shows the rich detail that ALMA will see when it observes the disks of material surrounding many stars. (Credit: NRAO/AUI; A. Wootten)
In the Best Location on Earth
ALMA is located in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, the driest place on the planet and one of the world's best sites for observational astronomy. At an elevation of 16,500 feet above sea level, the ALMA telescope is the highest observatory on Earth. When it is completed, it will include at least 66 radio telescopes that can be moved to span 10 miles of desert, creating nearly 71,000 square feet of radio light collecting area.
ALMA is an International Effort
Building ALMA is an international partnership among East Asia, Europe, and North America with the Republic of Chile. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) leads the North American component of the effort, whose participants include the United States, Canada, and Taiwan. North American contributions include:
- The North American ALMA Science Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, ALMA "headquarters" for North America
- Super-cooled, super-conducting receiver cartridges for ALMA bands 3 and 6
- An ALMA "Front End Integration Center" in Charlottesville, Virginia where receiver cartridges from around the world are integrated into large cabinets that are then shipped to Chile for installation into antennas
- Twenty-five 12-meter antennas, the most technically advanced and precise ever built
- ALMA's photonic local oscillator, which provides a crucial reference signal for the antennas
- Digital electronics for transmitting signals from the antennas
- The correlator for the extended array, an ultra-powerful supercomputer that will combine signals from ALMA antennas billions of times a second
- The Array Operations Site (AOS) technical building, second highest steel frame building in the world
- Road and power distribution to the AOS
- A variety of scientific software tools
Learn More about ALMA
Posted by Janine E. Mooney, Editor