ALMA is short for (Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array). It’s a powerful telescope located in Chile, which is starting to unlock information about how galaxies and solar systems were formed.
It has 66 large dish antennas moving in perfect synchrony. By combining the data collected, ALMA constructs images comparable to those that a much larger telescope would see.
Gianni Marconi, an astronomer with the project, explained: “ALMA is complementing classical astronomy. ALMA is investigating a wavelength that is in the millimetre and submillimetre range. You receive this radiation that is very faint because it is coming from very far away and this is the point of using ALMA. You need a lot of antennas; you need a place where the radiation is not disturbed by the atmosphere.”
The telescope is a joint project including partners from North America, Europe and East Asia. At the moment scientists are studying massive stars of mysterious formation, comet collisions, the birth of planetary systems, galaxies merging, and other mechanisms regulating our universe.
Gianni Marconi said: “Essentially, ALMA is opening windows. Imagine a building. There may be a lot of windows on one side but nothing on the other side for example. On one side you go and see a wall. ALMA is just opening a wall in this window, and you say “ah, there is another horizon there”. This is what ALMA is doing, looking at the beginning of the universe, at the beginning of the star formation, at the beginning of the formation of our cosmic structure.”
The project cost more than a billion euros and has taken nearly twenty years to develop.