The official inauguration of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has been set for March 13, 2013 – an event that’s sure to further solidify Chile’s position as a world center for astronomy.
The ceremony to officially launch the US$1.5 billion project will be attended by the Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera, representatives of the scientific community, and Atacama locals.
In 2020, when projects like the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) are complete, Chile will be home to 70% of the world’s astronomical observation.
“The leader status of Chile as a scientific axis is no coincidence. Its privileged geographical and climatic conditions – with areas of pristine skies for 320 nights a year – are accompanied by an impressive infrastructure and strong institutional support,” said the executive director of the Fundación Imagen de Chile, Blas Tomic.
The ALMA science complex, when fully complete in March, will feature 66 high-precision antennae that will explore the universe from the plateau of Chajnantor, located three miles (5,000 meters) above sea level in Northern Chile, 21 miles (34 km) outside of San Pedro de Atacama.
Once operating at its full capacity in late 2013, ALMA will have 100 times more sensitivity and spectral resolution than its predecessors in the millimeter/submillimeter field. In fact, even while only operating at 25 percent of its full capacity, ALMA has already been used to make significant discoveries, including the finding of sugar molecules in a distant star similar to our sun.
This unprecedented project, which involves the collaboration of 20 countries in Europe, North America and Asia, signifies a new era for astronomy research. Scientists will be able to see darker, colder, and denser regions of the cosmos thanks to ALMA’s powerful antenna array. ALMA’s 66 antennae act as a single telescope with a ten mile (16 km) diameter.
“ALMA marks a new page in our knowledge of the universe, opening an immeasurable field of research to the global scientific community that can answer unknowns that today are only theories,” said Gianni Marconi, ALMA astronomer. “ALMA will allow that and much more, such as how to identify the building blocks of life.”