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Chile Flag Europe Flag USA Flag Japan Flag Llano de Chajnantor ALMA Observatory, Chile

High on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), together with its international partners, is operating the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) – a state-of-the-art telescope to study light from some of the coldest objects in the Universe. This light has wavelengths of around a millimetre, between infrared light and radio waves, and is therefore known as millimetre and submillimetre radiation. ALMA comprises 66 high-precision antennas, spread over distances of up to 16 kilometers (10 miles). This global collaboration is the largest ground-based astronomical project in existence.
Millimetre and submillimetre radiation opens a window into the enigmatic cold Universe, but the signals from space are heavily absorbed by water vapour in the Earth’s atmosphere. Telescopes for this kind of astronomy must be built on high, dry sites, such as the 5,000-meter (17,000-feet) high plateau at Chajnantor, one of the highest astronomical observatory sites on Earth.
The ALMA site, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile, is in one of the driest places on Earth. Astronomers find unsurpassed conditions for observing, but they must operate a frontier observatory under very difficult conditions. Chajnantor is more than 750 meters (2,500 feet) higher than the observatories on Mauna Kea, and 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) higher than the VLT on Cerro Paranal. More…, how does ALMA works? and about the facilities.
Special thanks to David Rabanus, the director Pierre Cox and his assistant Daphne Elliott-Patterson for organizing my 2014 visit.
Please also visit the ESO Ultra HD Expedition blog by my friends Babak Tafreshi and Christoph Malin.

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ALMA Antenna
ALMA antennas

ALMA Antenna 10 12 Meter
ALMA antennas (10 and 12-meter)

ALMA Antenna View AOS Technical Building
ALMA antennas view
from the AOS technical building

ALMA Antenna AOS Technical Building
ALMA antennas
and AOS technical building

ALMA Protoplanetary Disc HL Tauri
ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL Tauri

On 2014 November 6, this is the sharpest image ever taken by ALMA — sharper than is routinely achieved in visible light with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. It shows the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young star HL Tauri, about 450 light-years away. These new ALMA observations reveal substructures within the disc that have never been seen before and even show the possible positions of planets forming in the dark patches within the system. A mystery is how planets massive enough to create these gaps formed so quickly, since the HL Tauri star system is only about one million years old. ALMA imaged the protoplanetary disk, which spans about 1,500 light-minutes across, in unprecedented detail, resolving features as small as 40 light-minutes. The low energy light used by ALMA was also able to peer through an intervening haze of gas and dust. Studying HL Tauri will likely give insight into how our own Solar System formed and evolved.

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Last page update on April 15, 2014.
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