European Antenna Reaches New Heights
The first European antenna that is part of the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) was handed over to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in April. The antenna, which was under contract from the ESO, was manufactured by the European AEM Consortium (Thales Alenia Space, European Industrial Engineering and MT-Mechatronics). Assembled at the Operational Support Facility at an altitude of 2900 m in the foothills of the Chilean Andes, it was equipped with highly sensitive detectors, which are cooled, and other necessary support electronics.
Since, one of the giant ALMA transporter vehicles has taken it 28 km to the Array Operations Site (AOS) location at 5000 m altitude. The AOS is the last port of call in a long journey that began when the component parts of the antenna were manufactured in factories across Europe. It is the 16th antenna of ALMA that will eventually be made up of 66 individual antennas.
John Richer, UK Project Scientist for ALMA, based at the University of Cambridge, UK, said, "Even with only 16 of the total 66 antennas in place, ALMA is a huge step forward for astronomy. The observatory is already much more sensitive than current instruments, and will allow us to study in great detail the faint radio waves emanating from young stars and distant galaxies. We hope these observations will answer some of the most fundamental questions about the way the Universe evolved from the Big Bang to the present day, and how our own Sun and planetary system formed."
The ALMA Antenna Project Manager at ESO, Stefano Stanghellini added, "It is great to see the first European ALMA antenna reach Chajnantor. It is from this arid plateau that these masterpieces of technology will be used to study the cosmos."