This composite shot of ancient star-formation in the Antennae galaxies is the first public image to be released from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (Alma) — an enormous, international telescope being built in Chile.
Alma is an array of giant radio telescopes, placed on the highest plateau in the Atacama desert, near Chile’s border with Bolivia. There are currently 20 telescope antennas on the plateau but by 2013 that total will reach 66.
By hooking this many high-powered telescopes up to a supercomputer, moving the antennas across the desert to zoom in on galaxies, and observing light at millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelengths, Alma will be able to peer further into the cosmos than any telescope before it.
“Alma’s test views of the Antennae show us star-forming regions on a level of detail that no other telescope on Earth or in space has attained,” said Mark McKinnon, the North American Alma Project Manager from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “This capability can only get much better as Alma nears completion.”
Unlike most telescopes which have been trained on these interacting galaxies, Alma can unveil blossoming stars from deep within the core — inside the stellar factory that is usually hidden inside the dusty, gas-rich arms of these violently colliding spiral galaxies.
“With Alma, we will focus on the heart of the collision, the interaction region where the two galaxies are crashing together” said Brad Whitmore of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “We can then study the formation of the Antennae’s most impressive fireworks and look into the cores of the giant molecular clouds where the star clusters are born.”
The billion-dollar construction project will continues into 2013, as international partners Europe, North America, East Asia and the Republic of Chile keep building new telescope antennas to ratchet up Alma’s cosmic vision.
In other telescopic news, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) — which lives up to its name with a of 39.3-metre optical and infrared lens — has received a huge financial boost ahead of its construction commencement later this year. The Science Technology and Facilities Council (STFC) has confirmed plans to provide £3.5million in funding to develop the telescope’s key instruments.