ALMA Telescope


    In Context

    • The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) is set to get software and hardware upgrades.


    • The upgrade  will help it collect much more data and produce sharper images than ever before.
    • The most significant modernisation made to ALMA will be the replacement of its correlator, a supercomputer that combines the input from individual antennas and allows astronomers to produce highly detailed images of celestial objects.
    • ALMA’s correlators are among the world’s fastest supercomputers.

    Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array

    • About: ALMA is a state-of-the-art  radio telescope comprising 66 antennas that studies celestial objects at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths.
      • They can penetrate through dust clouds and help astronomers examine dim and distant galaxies and stars out there. 
      • It also has extraordinary sensitivity, which allows it to detect even extremely faint radio signals.
      • Location: Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
      • It has been fully functional since 2013, and has helped astronomers make groundbreaking discoveries, including that of starburst galaxies and the dust formation inside supernova 1987A.
    • Development: It was designed, planned and constructed by the US’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
    • Operation:  ALMA is operated under a partnership among the United States, 16 countries in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile; the announcement came after all the partners cleared the funding required for the improvements.

    Why is ALMA located in Chile’s Atacama Desert?

    • ALMA is situated at an altitude of 16,570 feet (5,050 metres) above sea level on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
      • Reason: as the millimetre and submillimetre waves observed by it are very susceptible to atmospheric water vapour absorption on Earth. 
      • Moreover, the desert is the driest place in the world, meaning most of the nights here are clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture — making it a perfect location for examining the universe.

    Findings of Telescope

    • In 2013: Starburst galaxies 
    • ALMA provided detailed images of the protoplanetary disc surrounding HL Tauri — a very young T Tauri star in the constellation Taurus, approximately 450 light years from Earth.
    • In 2015:
      • It helped scientists observe a phenomenon known as the Einstein ring, which occurs when light from a galaxy or star passes by a massive object en route to the Earth.
    • It also provided the first image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy. 
      • The image was unveiled by scientists in May 2022.