The massive telescope ALMA, which stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, went live back in October of 2011, snapping some images despite not yet being fully functional at the time. Although the telescope is still a work in process, with nine of the 66 antenna dishes still slated for activation that will take place this summer, the observatory was inaugurated today in Chile in a large ceremony.
The observatory is composed of 66 dishes that (mostly) have a diameter of 40 feet, all of them joining forces to create images the equivalent of what you’d get from a 10-mile-wide telescope, according to Space.com. This means ALMA offers a better angular resolution than Hubble, but doing so in millimeter/submillimeter wavelengths, offering a look at things otherwise invisible due to dust and gas.
Because of its millimeter/submillimeter abilities, ALMA provides researchers with a means to look into the birth and death of stars. Its location in the Atacama Desert aids the observatory due to its high altitude and dry, clear conditions. How did such a powerful observatory come into existence? By joined forces between North America, East Asia, and Europe, with each of the three being responsible for the creation of about 30-percent of the dishes. Because of this, astronomers from each region get access to the telescope, with astronomers in Chile getting about 10-percent of the observation time due to the contribution of Chile in the project.
Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera praised the inauguration. “We are very proud to inaugurate this great project in which so many people have worked so hard for so long. ALMA will allow us to get deeper into the universe, but also into our own nature and our own lives.” At the end of the inauguration, the dishes were turned in unison towards the galaxy’s center with music and fanfare in the background.