New Telescope Opens For Business In Chile's Atacama Desert
October 3, 2011

New Telescope Opens For Business In Chile’s Atacama Desert

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Astronomers have opened up its doors to a new ground-base telescope that will help give scientists a peak at the places that have never been explored.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has released an image of a merging pair of galaxies as part of its grand opening.

ALMA is the largest and most expensive radio observatory on Earth and was funded by several different space agencies.

Radio observatories collect tiny waves given off by the clouds and help astronomers see the hidden galaxies that lie past them. 

The desert acts as a perfect location for this telescope because radio waves are too easily absorbed by moisture in the air.

The telescope is about 16,400-feet above sea level in Chile's northern Atacama Desert and it currently consists of 20 satellite dishes.  Once it is officially completed in 2013, it will consist of 66 linked satellite dishes spread across about 10 miles of desert.

Over 900 proposals from astronomers all over the world sent in applications to use to telescope and only 100 time slots will be able to be filled in the first round of nine months of scientific observations.

The astronomers who released the first image taken by ALMA said that detailed views of star-formation in the Antenna Galaxy confirm that this new telescope will surpass all others of its kind.

"We chose the impressive interacting system called the Antennae galaxies as a test subject because it is in the process of undergoing the type of spectacular, violent merger that many galaxies may have undergone since their formation, but that we can rarely catch in action," Dr. Alison Peck, an astronomer from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) who is serving in Chile as ALMA Deputy Project Scientist, said in a press release.

The image is a composite view of the Antenna taken with several different types of telescopes, including test data from ALMA.

"With the telescopes combined into a single system by one of the world's fastest, special-purpose supercomputers, and aimed at many more objects all across the sky, ALMA will reveal a Universe never before seen," the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said in a press release.


Image Caption: The Antennae Galaxies (also known as NGC 4038 and 4039) are a pair of distorted colliding spiral galaxies about 70 million light-years away, in the constellation of Corvus (The Crow). This view combines ALMA observations, made in two different wavelength ranges during the observatory´s early testing phase, with visible-light observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope


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