Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Sub-millimetre Light In The Desert

Date:
July 19, 2005
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) project has just passed another major milestone by successfully commissioning its new technology 12-m telescope, located on the 5100m high Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert (Chile). The APEX telescope, designed to work at sub-millimetre wavelengths, in the 0.2 to 1.5 mm range, has just performed its first scientific observations. This new front-line facility will provide access to the "Cold Universe" with unprecedented sensitivity and image quality.

APEX (Atacama Pathfinder Experiment) is the most efficient earthbound device for studying star formation processes. After a construction period of 36 months - at an altitude of 5100 meters and under the extreme climatic conditions of the Chilean Atacama desert - APEX has now produced initial results which show that the radio telescope provides an almost unobstructed view of star forming regions and galactic nuclei.
Credit: Image : Arnaud Belloche, MPIfR

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) project has just passed another major milestone by successfully commissioning its new technology 12-m telescope, located on the 5100m high Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert (Chile). The APEX telescope, designed to work at sub-millimetre wavelengths, in the 0.2 to 1.5 mm range, has just performed its first scientific observations. This new front-line facility will provide access to the "Cold Universe" with unprecedented sensitivity and image quality.

Related Articles



Karl Menten, Director of the group for Millimetre and Sub-Millimetre Astronomy at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) and Principal Investigator of the APEX project is excited: "Among the first observations, we have obtained wonderful spectra, which took only minutes to take but offer a fascinating view of the highly complex organic chemistry in star-forming regions. In addition, we have also obtained exquisite images from the Magellanic Clouds and observed molecules in the active nuclei of several external galaxies. Traditionally, telescopes turn to weak extragalactic sources only after they are well in operation. With APEX, we could pick them amongst our first targets."

Because sub-millimetre radiation from space is heavily absorbed by water vapour in the Earth’s atmosphere, APEX is located at an altitude of 5100 meters in the high Chilean Atacama desert on the Chajnantor plains, 50 km east of San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. The Atacama desert is one of the driest places on Earth, thus providing unsurpassed observing opportunities - at the costs of the demanding logistics required to operate a frontier science observatory at this remote place.

Along with the Japanese 10-m ASTE telescope, which is operating at a neighbouring, lower altitude location, APEX is the first and largest sub-millimetre facility under southern skies. With its precise antenna and large collecting area, it will provide unprecedented access to a whole new domain in astronomical observations. Millimetre and sub-millimetre astronomy opens exciting new possibilities in the study of the first galaxies to have formed in the Universe and of the processes of stars and planet formation. APEX will, among other things, allow astronomers to study the chemistry and physical conditions of molecular clouds, i.e. dense regions of gas and dust in which new stars are forming.

APEX follows in the footsteps of the 15m Swedish-ESO Sub-Millimetre Telescope (SEST) which was operated at ESO La Silla from 1987 until 2003 in a collaboration between ESO and the Onsala Space Observatory. SEST operated in the wavelength range from 0.8 to 3 mm. ESO’s Director General, Catherine Cesarsky says: "SEST was for a long time the only instrument of its kind in the southern hemisphere. With it, ESO and our collaborators have gained valuable operational experience with regard to ground-based observations in the non-optical spectral domain. With APEX, we offer the ESO community a most exciting new facility that will pave the way for ALMA."

As it name implies, APEX is the pathfinder to the ALMA project. It is indeed a modified ALMA prototype antenna and is located at the future site of the ALMA observatory. ALMA is planned to consist of a giant array of 12-m antennas separated by baselines of up to 14 km and is expected to start operation by the end of the decade. It will bring to sub-millimetre astronomy the aperture synthesis techniques of radio astronomy, enabling precision imaging to be done on sub-arcsecond angular scales, and will complement the ESO VLT/VLTI observatory.

In order to operate at the shorter sub-millimetre wavelengths, APEX presents a surface of exceedingly high quality: after a series of high precision adjustments, the APEX project team was able to adjust the surface of the mirror with remarkable precision: over the 12m diameter of the antenna, the deviation from the perfect parabola is now less than 17 thousandths of a millimetre. This is smaller than one fifth of the average thickness of a human hair!

"From the engineering point of view, APEX is already a big success and its performance surpasses our expectations", says APEX Project Manager Rolf Gόsten. "This could only be achieved thanks to the highly committed teams from the constructor, from the MPIfR and from the APEX project whose endless hours of work, often at high altitudes, made this project become reality."

In parallel to the construction and commissioning of the APEX telescope, a demanding cutting-edge technology program has been launched to provide the best possible detectors for this outstanding facility. For its first observations, APEX was equipped with state-of-the-art sub-millimetre spectrometers developed by MPIfR’s Division for Sub-Millimetre Technology and, more recently, with the first facility receiver build at Chalmers University (OSO).

APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Onsala Space Observatory (OSO), and the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO). The telescope was designed and constructed by VERTEX Antennentechnik GmbH (Germany), under contract by MPIfR, and is based on a prototype antenna constructed for the ALMA project. Operation of APEX in Chajnantor is entrusted to ESO.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "New Sub-millimetre Light In The Desert." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050719003554.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2005, July 19). New Sub-millimetre Light In The Desert. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050719003554.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "New Sub-millimetre Light In The Desert." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050719003554.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) — Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Italy's first female astronaut safely docks with the International Space Station, according to NASA. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Nov. 24, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz rocket delivers a multi-national trio to the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) — A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy has arrived at the International Space Station. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins