A new ground based observatory has opened its dishes up to the stars for the first time. The observatory is the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array also known as ALMA. The special telescope isn’t fully operational just yet, but it has snapped its first photo and it looks impressively good. The photo is of the Antennae Galaxies and the galaxies can’t be seen by visible or infrared telescopes.
Right now, the telescope array has only a third (12) of the 66 radio antennas that it will have eventually. The current dishes are separated by 125 meters rather than the 16KM max. ALMA is located on the Chanjnantor plateau in northern Chile at 5,000 meter elevation. The most interesting thing about ALMA is that even though it’s not complete, the telescope is already the best telescope of its kind.
ALMA uses light in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, which are roughly a thousand times longer than the visible-light wavelengths. The longer wavelengths allow the study of very cold objects in space like the dense clouds of cosmic dust and gas that planets come from. The photo above is the Antennae Galaxies, which are a pair of distorted spiral galaxies that are colliding 70 million light-years away and it is the best photo of the galaxies ever taken.