To boldly show: World’s most expensive telescope takes first pictures of deepest space in quest for more knowledge of outer universe.
This is the remarkable first picture taken by the new $1.3billion radio telescope sitting high in the Chilean Andes.
It shows two galaxies colliding in a view no other telescope on Earth or in space could capture.
The shot is a teasing glimpse of the capabilities of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope – this picture has been taken using only a quarter of the antennae it will have when it comes into full operation in 2013.
But even now, this shot of the Antennae Galaxies is astonishing – showing off the telescope’s exceptional power at detecting ‘cold’ matter using radio waves. The combined image shown would not be visible at all to visible-light and infrared telescopes.
The radio telescope is the most expensive ground-based telescope ever built – and the highest-altitude, at 16,000ft. Chile’s Atacama desert was chosen as its location for its dryness and clarity.
American projeect manager Mark McKinnon said, ‘Alma’s test views show us star-forming regions on a level of detail that no other telescope on Earth or in space has attained.’ It operates at higher sensititivity and higher resolution than any previous ‘sub-millimetre’ radio telescope – and should allow us to see the formation of new solar systems.
ALMA, as it is known, can see through cold clouds of dust that ‘block the view’ of traditional infrared/visible light telescopes.
As more of ALMA’s antennae come online, its images will get sharper.
North American ALMA project manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mark McKinnon said: We went to one of the most extreme locations on Earth to build the world’s largest array of millimetre/submillimeter telescopes, having a level of technical sophistication that was merely a dream only a decade ago.’
The amazing shot of the Antennae Galaxies (otherwise known as NGC 4038 and 4039) shows the pair of interacting galaxies in the constellation Corvus.
The galaxies are around 70 million light-years away and were captured by ALMA using two different wavelength ranges.
The 40ft radio telescope sits on the Chajnator plateau in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, at an elevation of 16,500 ft.
ALMA’s deputy project scientist during construction, Alison Peck, told the science site: ‘With millimetre and submillimeter waves, we can watch planet formation, investigate astrochemistry and detect the light that is finally reaching us from the universe’s earliest galaxies.’
ALMA is an international partnership project of Europe, North America and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile, and is presently the largest astronomical project in the world.
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