Astronomers celebrate ALMA’s first year in Chilean Patagonia

After a year of exciting discoveries from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, scientists gathered in Puerto Varas to reflect on findings. 

Two hundred of the world’s top astronomers gathered in Puerto Varas in Chilean Patagonia at the end of December to celebrate and discuss the scientific results garnered from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope’s first year of operation. Called the First Year of ALMA Science conference, the scientific gathering took place on the banks of Lake Llanquihue in southern Chile.

The ALMA telescope is located in the arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile. While many of the astronomers were familiar with the Atacama region, few had ventured this far into Chile’s sublime Patagonia region.

“[The astronomers] were delighted to discover the warm hospitality, exquisite cuisine and natural beauty of the region,” Gautier Mathys, Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee, said in an online statement.

December’s conference covered a host of the year’s ALMA observations including solar system bodies, objects in the Milky Way, the local universe and objects found in the high-redshift universe as well. Astronomers discussed the ramifications of such observations, and also analyzed related data from other observatories.

“We now have a much better understanding of the process of planet formation around other stars,” Leonardo Testi, Chair ESO’s Conference Scientific Organizing Committee described. “New and important results were obtained in the area of pre-biotic molecules in space, which may be linked to the origin of life. With ALMA we are starting to study in detail the chemistry of water and complex organic molecules and this is important for understanding our origins.”

As ALMA’s first year of life came to a close, astronomers were eager about the potential for astronomical discovery in 2013.

“We are proud of the first results obtained with the subset of ALMA that is already available,” Thijs de Graauw, ALMA Director described.  “The discoveries discussed at this conference are already very impressive, but this is just the beginning of a new era of astronomy.