Radio telescope ALMA opens its eye on Universe
New York: One of the world’s largest ground-based astronomical projects is being installed 16,597 feet above sea level in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which will help the oxygen-deprived scientists flocking to this region to study the origins of the universe.
Opened last October, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, known as ALMA, will have spread 66 radio antennas near the spine of the Andes by the time it is completed next year.
The 1.35-billion-dollars telescope, a joint project by the United States, the European Union, Canada, Chile, Japan and Taiwan, will explore some of the darkest, coldest, farthest, and most hidden secrets of the Cosmos.
“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.
“We made the impossible possible. This truly is a great occasion!” he added.
ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, which is under construction, is currently using 16 large antennas to see wavelengths of light that are much longer than what the human eyes can see. Eventually it will use 66 antennas.
Over 900 project proposals were submitted from around the world, competing to be the first ones to explore the universe using ALMA.
However, its first round of scientific observations, dubbed “Early Science”, will be limited to 100 projects.
The successful projects were chosen based on their scientific value, their regional diversity, and also their relevance to ALMA's major science goals.
Among the projects chosen for “Early Science” observations is the hunt for the building blocks of solar systems by a team led by David Wilner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In another project, Japanese astronomer Masami Ouchi of the University of Tokyo will observe Himiko, a very distant galaxy that produces at least 100 suns'' worth of stars every year and surrounded by a giant, bright nebula.
Dr. Simon Casassus, from the University of Chile, and his team will use ALMA to observe the gas and dust disk around HD142527, a young star that is 400 light years away.
ALMA will also hunt for cold gas and dust tracers here, as far back as a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, at a time astronomers call “cosmic dawn.”
By 2013, ALMA will be an up to 11-mile wide array of 66 ultra-precision millimeter/submillimeter wave radio telescopes working together as one and built by ALMA's multinational partners in North America, East Asia, and Europe.