World's largest telescope inaugurated

March 13, 2013 at 8:12 PM

ATACAMA DESERT, Chile, March 13 (UPI) -- The largest ground-based telescope on Earth, set to probe the most distant reaches of the universe, was inaugurated in a ceremony in Chile Wednesday.

ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, is a single instrument comprised of 66 high-precision antennas in the high desert of the Chilean Andes that function as one telescope and will spend the next decade observing the universe by detecting light invisible to the human eye, a release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Va., said.

Built at a cost of $1.3 billion, ALMA is an international partnership using the scientific, technical, and financial resources of North America, Europe, and East Asia.

Among ALMA's missions will be detecting never-before-seen details about the birth of stars, infant galaxies in the early Universe, and planets coalescing around distant suns, astronomers said.

"ALMA was designed to be an incredibly powerful tool for discovery, not for just the current grand challenges in astronomy and physics, but also for new mysteries we have yet to encounter," said Tony Beasley, director of the NRAO, which oversees the North American portion of the project.

Operating at an elevation of 16,500 feet, ALMA will detect the faintest whispers of millimeter and submillimeter light by using superconducting receivers that will operate at just a few degrees above absolute zero.

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