Washington, May 7 (ANI): The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an immense international telescope project under construction in northern Chile, reached a major milestone when two ALMA antennas were linked together as an integrated system to observe an astronomical object for the first time.
The milestone achievement, technically termed "First Fringes," came at ALMA's Operations Support Facility (OSF), 9,500 feet above sea level, on April 30.
Faint radio waves emitted by the planet Mars were collected by the two 12-meter diameter ALMA antennas, then processed by state-of-the-art electronics to turn the two antennas into a single, high-resolution telescope system, called an interferometer.
Such pairs of antennas are the basic building blocks of imaging systems that enable radio telescopes to deliver pictures that approach or even exceed the resolving power of visible light telescopes.
In such a system, each antenna is combined electronically with every other antenna to form a multitude of antenna pairs.
Each pair contributes unique information that is used to build a highly-detailed image of the astronomical object under observation.
When completed in early in the next decade, ALMA's 66 antennas will provide over a thousand such antenna pairings, with distances between antennas exceeding ten miles.
This will enable ALMA to see with a sharpness surpassing that of the best space telescopes.
The antennas will operate at an altitude of 16,500 feet, high above the OSF, in one of the best locations on Earth for millimeter-wavelength astronomy, the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile's Atacama Desert.
ALMA will provide astronomers with the world's most advanced tool for exploring the Universe at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths.
It will detect fainter objects and be able to produce much higher-quality images at these wavelengths than any previous telescope system.
Scientists are eager to use this transformational capability to study stars and galaxies that formed in the early Universe, to learn long-sought details about how stars are born, and to trace the motion of gas and dust as it whirls toward the surface of newly-formed stars and planets.
According to Thijs de Graauw, ALMA Director at the JAO, "This is another important step forward for ALMA as it proves that the various hardware components can work well together." (ANI)