The first antenna for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, high in the desert in Chile, was handed over to the ALMA team yesterday. (Press release from the European Southern Observatory)
This, say those in charge, is a massive milestone for the project, which will end up being one of the world’s most advanced telescopes. It will sit at 5,000 metres above sea level, on the Chajnantor plateau. It’s a global project, and will cost over a billion US dollars.
The antenna was delivered by manufacturers Mitsubishi Electric Corporation for the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, one of the global partners of ALMA. Next up will be European and North America antennae. Initially the array will have 66 antennae spread out across the plateau. These things weigh 100 tonnes, and will span a distance of 16 kilometres.
The 12-metre antennae will focus incoming radiation, which will then be amplified by sensitive receivers, enabling researchers to probe the cold universe – parts of the sky that look dark but shine brightly in the millimetre and submillimetre portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The array will also be able to measure the heat that is emitted from the dust of newly formed planets. This will help astronomers work out how planets form.
It has been a long process to get to this stage; the project began in 1998. Now that ALMA has its first antenna, the scientist can begin their task of integrating the receivers and other bits and pieces that will pick up the faint signals from space.
Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)