Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

ALMA Telescope Reaches New Heights

Date:
September 25, 2009
Source:
European Southern Observatory - ESO
Summary:
The ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) astronomical observatory has taken another step forward — and upwards. One of its state-of-the-art antennas was carried for the first time to the 5000m plateau of Chajnantor, in the Chilean Andes, on the back of a custom-built giant transporter. The antenna, which weighs about 100 tons and has a diameter of 12 metres, was transported up to the high-altitude Array Operations Site, where the extremely dry and rarefied air is ideal for ALMA’s observations of the Universe.

An ALMA antenna en route to the plateau of Chajnantor for the first time.
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

The ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) astronomical observatory has taken another step forward — and upwards. One of its state-of-the-art antennas was carried for the first time to the 5000m plateau of Chajnantor, in the Chilean Andes, on the back of a custom-built giant transporter. The antenna, which weighs about 100 tons and has a diameter of 12 metres, was transported up to the high-altitude Array Operations Site, where the extremely dry and rarefied air is ideal for ALMA’s observations of the Universe.

Related Articles


The conditions at the Array Operations Site on Chajnantor, while excellent for astronomy, are also very harsh. Only half as much oxygen is available as at sea level, making it very difficult to work there. This is why ALMA’s antennas are assembled and tested at the lower 2900 m altitude of the ALMA Operations Support Facility. It was from this relatively hospitable base camp that the ALMA antenna began its journey to the high Chajnantor site.

“This is an important moment for ALMA. We are very happy that the first transport of an antenna to the high site went flawlessly. This achievement was only possible through contributions from all international ALMA partners: this particular antenna is provided by Japan, the heavy-lift transporter by Europe, and the receiving electronics inside the antenna by North America, Europe, and Asia”, said Wolfgang Wild, European ALMA Project Manager.

The trip began when one of the two ALMA transporters, named Otto, lifted the antenna onto its back. It then carried its heavy load along the 28 km road from the Operations Support Facility up to the Array Operations Site. While the transporter is capable of speeds of up to 12 km/hour when carrying an antenna, this first journey was made more slowly to ensure that everything worked as expected, taking about seven hours.

The ALMA antennas are the most advanced submillimetre-wavelength antennas ever made. They are designed to operate fully exposed in the harsh conditions of the Array Operations Site. This means surviving strong winds and temperatures between +20 and -20 Celsius whilst being able to point precisely enough that they could pick out a golf ball at a distance of 15 km, and to keep their smooth reflecting surfaces accurate to better than 25 micrometres (less than the typical thickness of a human hair).

Once the transporter reached the high plateau it carried the antenna to a concrete pad — a docking station with connections for power and fibre optics — and positioned it with an accuracy of a few millimetres. The transporter is guided by a laser steering system and, just like some cars today, also has ultrasonic collision detectors. These sensors ensure the safety of the state-of-the-art antennas as the transporter drives them across what will soon be a rather crowded plateau. Ultimately, ALMA will have at least 66 antennas distributed over about 200 pads, spread over distances of up to 18.5 km and operating as a single, giant telescope. Even when ALMA is fully operational, the transporters will be used to move the antennas between pads to reconfigure the telescope for different kinds of observations.

“Transporting our first antenna to the Chajnantor plateau is a epic feat which exemplifies the exciting times in which ALMA is living. Day after day, our global collaboration brings us closer to the birth of the most ambitious ground-based astronomical observatory in the world”, said Thijs de Graauw, ALMA Director.

This first ALMA antenna at the high site will soon be joined by others and the ALMA team looks forward to making their first observations from the Chajnantor plateau. They plan to link three antennas by early 2010, and to make the first scientific observations with ALMA in the second half of 2011.

ALMA will help astronomers answer important questions about our cosmic origins. The telescope will observe the Universe using light with millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, between infrared light and radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. Light at these wavelengths comes from some of the coldest, but also from some of the most distant objects in the cosmos. These include cold clouds of gas and dust where new stars are being born and remote galaxies towards the edge of the observable universe. The Universe is relatively unexplored at submillimetre wavelengths, as the telescopes need extremely dry atmospheric conditions, such as those at Chajnantor, and advanced detector technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Southern Observatory - ESO. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Southern Observatory - ESO. "ALMA Telescope Reaches New Heights." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923112613.htm>.
European Southern Observatory - ESO. (2009, September 25). ALMA Telescope Reaches New Heights. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923112613.htm
European Southern Observatory - ESO. "ALMA Telescope Reaches New Heights." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923112613.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Russia&apos;s space agency created a video that shows what our sky would look like with different star if they were as close as our sun. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) walks us through the cool video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Retired astronaut and television host, Leland Melvin, snuck his dogs into the NASA studio so they could be in his official photo. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us, the secret is out. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) NASA is remembering 17 astronauts who were killed in the line of duty and dozens more who have died since the agency&apos;s beginning. A remembrance ceremony was held Thursday at NASA&apos;s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
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