Most Complex, Most Expensive Ground Telescope Captures A Stunning Photo Of Colliding Galaxies

The world’s most complex ground telescope is finally in operation and it just snapped a stunner! The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA) finally opened on the 30th of September and the following is the first photo that it showed the world.

The ALMA returned this image of the Antenna Galaxies. (Courtesy: ESO, NAOJ, NRAO)

The photo is that of the Antenna Galaxies, two galaxies which are colliding with each other. They are known by their catalog names as NGC 4038 and 4039. The photo has been combined with the photo of the same galaxies in the optical range obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope to give the following photo.

The Antenna Galaxies as seen when millimeter and visible light information is combined into a single photo. (Courtesy: ESO, NAOJ, NRAO, NASA/JPL)

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)

The millimeter and submillimeter capabilities of ALMA mean that it can look at cold objects in space that don’t radiate in the visible or infrared range. It can also pick up radiowave radiation filtering out of dust clouds that block the optical radiation.

The ALMA telescopes, when it was in its test phase. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The Logo

The ALMA is an array of 12 meter radio telescopes that sit on the fringe of the Atacama desert at an elevation of 5000 meters (16,500 feet) in Chajnantor plateau in Norther Chile. What is it good for? It offers a window to the very early Universe. Precious little is known about that epoch and ALMA hopes to expand that immensely. It can catch radiation from sources which are about a thousand times colder than the Sun.

Right now, the ALMA has 19 telescopes in the array. In another year or two (hopefully by the end of 2013), this number will be increased to 66. ALMA is currently booked for the next nine months at least. There have been huge excitement in the astronomy community and as soon as it opened, there have been as many as 900 applications for using it. In the next nine months, ALMA can fit in only about a hundred.

ALMA is funded by European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Europe, National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in North America. Funding has also come from National Research Council in Canada and National Science Council in Taiwan. The total cost of the array at the moment is over US$ 1 billion. This is the most expensive ground based telescope array ever. It is also the most complex.

The beginning has been great! The image is stunning and it is getting everyone’s attention. The next one year should yield lots of scientific riches.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.