ALMA: World's largest radio telescope switches on in Chile

Posted By Kristen Butler,  |  March 13, 2013 at 11:01 AM
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The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, perched above Chile's Atacama Desert becomes fully operational Wednesday.

ALMA consists of 66 interconnected radio telescopes -- the world's largest ground-based array and Earth's most powerful telescope. Operating through a supercomputer in extreme synchronicity, ALMA will be about 10 times more powerful than NASA's Hubble telescope.

The project is jointly funded by the United States, Canada, the European Union, Japan and Taiwan and built in collaboration with Chile. The project has been in progress for a decade, with construction starting in 2005. Before becoming fully operational, ALMA already made a range of discoveries, including a molecular building block of life around a young star.

When its full potential is reached, the telescope will be able to observe cosmic phenomena dating back to just several million years after the Big Bang, which is estimated to have occurred approximately 13.77 billion years ago.

"To me, it's just spectacular that we can look 12 billion years in time with an instrument like ALMA," Jim Ulvestad, director of the Astronomical Sciences Division at the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said at a news conference according to

"ALMA is a telescope that is basically 100 times more powerful than any similar millimeter telescope that's ever been built before."

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