WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL TELESCOPE

Wednesday 05 October 2011 at 5:07 pm. Used tags: , , , , , ,

[work in progress]

World's most expensive telescope takes first pictures of deepest space in quest for more knowledge of outer universe

By Jessica Satherley

Last updated at 2:44 PM on 4th October 2011

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 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.

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The ALMA radio telescope has taken its first photograph of the Antennae Galaxies from the observatory in Chile (pictured)

The ALMA radio telescope has taken its first photograph of the Antennae Galaxies from the observatory in Chile (pictured)

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.’

Desert location: ALMA sits in the Chajnantor plateau, in Chile's Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago

Desert location: ALMA radio telescope sits in the Chajnantor plateau, in Chile's Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago

ALMA's antennas: Each of its 66 antennas will be used to detect extremely cold objects, such as gas clouds formed by stars and planets

ALMA's antennas: Each of its 66 antennas will be used to detect extremely cold objects, such as gas clouds formed by stars and planets

Worldwide project: ALMA is an international partnership project of Europe, North America and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile

Joint project: ALMA is an international partnership project of Europe, North America and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile

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.

Chilean telescope in the Atacama desert

 

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

To Richard M. in Pasadena: Please stop making comments that make Americans appear woefully uneducated. The rest of us would appreciate that very much.

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Richard, If the galaxies are 70 million light years away clearly it took 70 million years for the electromagnetic energy to reach the Earth and this array as said energy cannot travel faster than 186,000 miles a second, or in physics parlance, c. Ergo, when the radio waves this impressive array is detecting and painting on a computer screen left the those colliding galaxies, the dinosaurs had another five million years to live before a giant rock hit that is now the Yucatan Peninsula and sent them to extinction.

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Dennis Wuest, it is indeed a matter of time as well as distance. We are seeing the 2 galaxies as they looked 70 million years ago, because it took the light of their collision that long to reach us. We do not know, and can never know what they look like "right now"; we'll have to wait 70 million years for that.

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To Richard M. in Pasadena: viewing something 70 million light years away IS INDEED seeing the object as it was 70 million years ago. Since nothing travels faster than the speed of light, this should be easy for even the youngest grade school child to comprehend.

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Richard of Pasadena: By saying that the image being imaged is 70 million light years away, you are simultaneously saying that it took 70 million years for the light we are observing to get to us. (Your definition of light year is accurate.) So, the light we are seeing was emitted 70 million years ago, making the image we are seeing 70 million years old. Therefore, the event in the photo is 70 million years old. That's why the scientists say that we are able to look further and further into the past with more and more powerful telescopes.

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@Richard M., Pasadena said, "Nowhere in the Article does it say what you are seeing is '70 Million Years ago'". So, Richard, if the galaxies are 70 million light years away, just how long do you believe it took for the light to GET to the ALMA array? Two weeks? Are you haggling over perceived differences in the speed of light, or does the definition "how far light travels in a year" mean something different to you than is described?

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