Earth's largest radio telescope is officially open for business

ALMA Observatory

The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in the Chilean Andes is officially open for star-gazing business. According to the ALMA scientists, the array should help us learn more about the birth of stars, infant galaxies from the early Universe, and planets orbiting around distant suns.

This facility has about 66 radio dishes sitting on top of a plateau 5000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level in the Atacama Desert. This includes 54 12-meter dishes and 12 smaller 7-meter dish antennas that all work together as a single radio telescope.

ALMA scans the sky using both millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths, which fits right into the wave spectrum where infrared light stops and radio waves begin. By using these wavelengths, the array is able to peer through the clouds of molecular gas and dust in interstellar space.

To crunch all this data, Fujitsu has provided 35 PRIMERGY x86 servers to work alongside a supercomputer known as the ALMA Correlator. The system can process 512 billion telescope samples per second at a computational rate of 120 trillion operations per second. (But can it run Crysis?)

ALMA Observatory
Astronomers using ALMA have for the first time found that the outer region of a dusty disc encircling a brown dwarf.

Scientists at ALMA have already been hard at work, sighting new planets in the process of forming and peering at some of the most ancient (or distant) galaxies. On Wednesday, ALMA astronomers pointed out the vibrant birth of a star that occurred a full billion years earlier than previously thought possible.

ALMA is part of a partnership between astronomers from Europe, North America, and East Asia, in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The $1.3 billion observatory is the product of 30 years of planning and 10 years of construction.

[ALMA Observatory via Engadget]

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