Working at ALMA, day and night

In the foothills of the Chilean Andes, at an altitude of 2900 metres, the Operations Support Facility (OSF) for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a hive of activity. This photograph shows engineers moving a heavyweight antenna at night — with the help of a special 28-wheel transporter — and illustrates how work at ALMA continues around the clock. The antenna, one of 25 provided for the ALMA project by ESO, is being moved into position next to antennas from the other ALMA partners to be tested and equipped with highly sensitive detectors.

When completed, ALMA will consist of 66 12-metre and 7-metre antennas that will work together as a giant radio telescope observing at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. The facility will allow astronomers to study our cosmic origins by probing the first stars and galaxies, and imaging the formation of planets.

The telescope is being constructed on Llano de Chajnantor, a plateau that is a 28-kilometre drive from the OSF, at the even higher altitude of 5000 metres. Since the photograph was taken, this antenna has joined others on Chajnantor and has been taking part in ALMA’s first science observations.

While the plateau’s elevated location gives it the extremely dry conditions that are vital for observing at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, the altitude make it less pleasant for people working there. Therefore, the people working on ALMA do as much as possible from the lower altitude of the OSF, where work continues day and night. Not only are astronomers and engineers working in shifts and controlling the telescope on Chajnantor remotely, but this is also where the antennas are assembled and tested, and where they are brought for occasional maintenance.

ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.



About the Image

Release date:14 November 2011, 10:00
Size:5145 x 3375 px

About the Object

Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory : Facility

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