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ALMA Telescope Makes First Observations

 Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) This artist's rendering shows what ALMA will look like upon completion in 2012. At 66 antennas strong, she's one beautiful array.  NRAO

The ALMA telescope located high in the Chilean Andes made its first measurements on Tuesday using just two of the eventual 66 antennas that will comprise the array. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array took interferometric measurements of radio signals, or “fringes,” from a distant quasar (3C454.3) at sub-millimeter wavelengths. Astronomers said the data from the two 12-meter antennas provided unprecedented sensitivity and resolution, and observations at a wavelength of less than 1mm showed ALMA was now truly a “submillimeter” as well as millimeter-wave telescope.

ALMA is the largest, most ambitious ground-based observatory ever created, with completion slated for 2012. When all 66 antennas are working in synch, researchers believe ALMA will revolutionize the way we see the universe, probing deep into some of the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang and observing planets in mid-formation around young stars.

Interferometry involves linking together arrays of smaller telescopes to make measurements of an object. Sophisticated electronic systems will correlating the signals.

The next step in the process will be the addition of a third antenna which will allow the Alma team to obtain “phase closure.” This is an important capability which requires at least three antennas to cancel out errors in the “phase” of the signals caused by the instruments themselves and by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Here’s a video overview of ALMA:

Source: BBC


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Astrofiend November 17, 2009, 8:30 PM

    Sweet mother of awesome – super keen for this beast to start paying dividends…

  • ND November 17, 2009, 9:32 PM

    Didn’t even know this was being built. Nice little surprise :)

  • DrFlimmer November 18, 2009, 4:39 AM

    Is there information available, what object they targeted? Is this probably mentioned in the video (I don’t want to watch it, now 😉 )?

  • Nancy Atkinson November 18, 2009, 6:25 AM

    It was quasar 3C454.3. Sorry, meant to have that in the article, and now its been added. Thanks!

  • Jon Hanford November 18, 2009, 7:16 AM

    The ALMA homepage ( http://www.almaobservatory.org/ ) mentions that additionally the Orion Molecular Cloud and quasar 3C 84 as well as 3C 454.3 were detected with these initial two antennae and provide more detailed comments on these ‘first fringes’ observations. Something to *really* look forward to in 2012. :)