ALMA Observatory

Founded to discover humanities cosmic origin circa '96


Down in the southern hemisphere, in the Chilean Atacama desert, astronomers will operate the telescope from the Operations Support Facility (OSF) located at 2900 meters above sea level. The array of of antennas will be located at the Altiplano de Chajnantor, a plateau at an altitude of 5000 meters.

Why did they set up here?

The plateau that houses the largest astronomical project every was the perfect site to set up for observation. The dry air and high altitude was the exact formula to produce some of the best astronomical readings possible on planet earth.

How does it work?

This observatory is a compilation of one telescope and 66 antennas, 54 of which have a 12 meter diameter dish and the other 12 have a 7 meter diameter. Each dish on the antennas plays the same role as the mirror of and optical telescope, collecting radiation coming from distant astronomical objects, focusing it into a detector that measures radiation. The longer wavelengths recoded on this plateau are the reason why ALMA's dishes are not mirrors, but a surface of metallic panels. If the surface of the dishes is not virtually perfect, down to the hundredth of a millimeter, the readings of the antennas will not be on point. The antennas are also steered very precisely and pointed to an angular accuracy of 0.6 arcseconds.

How is data collected?

To start collecting data, ALMA must make sure that all 66 antennas are directed at the exact same location. From there, the signals from al the different antennas must travel in the path followed from each antenna until it is combined at the central computer. A flaw in the system is when the radio waves try and break through earths atmosphere, it is partially absorbed, deviated, and delayed but molecules of CO2, Oxygen, and water. Seven weather stations surround ALMA measure the amount of line-of-sight water vapor in the atmosphere and use the data to help correct the atmospheric effects.

Major Discoveries

ALMA Prenatal Scan Reveals Embryonic Monster Star- ALMA astronomers have gotten the best view of a monster star in the works forming inside a dark cloud. The largest ever seen in the Milky Way, this womb is over 500 times the mass of the sun. The star, once birthed, is predicted to be 200 times the mass of the sun. Said to be formed by the dark cloud imploding into itself, with material around it racing to the clouds center, the must anticipated star is still a mystery.

Japanese Astronomers Revealed the Origin of the Cosmic Background Light- Japanese astronomers have revealed that approximately 80% of the unidentified millimeter wave light is emitted from galaxies. They were also able to pinpoint the exact galaxy the light was coming from. In addition, they also successfully measured the number density of galaxies which are 10 times less luminous than ones previously observed with conventional millimeter instruments.

ALMA Pinpoints Early Galaxies at Record Speed- Astronomers used the new ALMA telescope to pinpoint the locations of over 100 of the most fertile star-forming galaxies in the early universe. They were able to do this in a matter of hours when with previous technology would have taken around a decade.

Current Projects/Improvments

Data from the Radio Telescope- detected a star formation-a protostar- appears to be one of the brightest and most massive in our galaxy

Star births- ALMA shows that the most vigorous bursts of star birth in the cosmos took place much earlier than previously thought. Many of these distant dusty start forming galaxies are even further away that expected.

More Antennas- ALMA is adding more antennas to increase the quality of data.