The Atacama Large Millimetre Array

The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) will be the largest observatory ever built operating at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths in the world, and will provide astronomers with dramatic new insights into the formation of stars and galaxies.

Alma correlator
Wide-angle view of the ALMA correlator.
Image: ESO
Click for a full-size image.
The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics hosts the UK ALMA Regional Centre

ALMA will eventually comprise 66 individual telescopes that are combined electronically to simulate a telescope diameter of up to 16km - more than a thousand times the diameter of a single individual telescope within the array.

ALMA reveals a view of the Universe that cannot be seen at all by visible-light and infrared telescopes. It observes 'light' emitted in the millimetre and submillimetre wavelength range, roughly one thousand times longer than visible-light wavelengths.

Using these longer wavelengths allows astronomers to study extremely cold and visibly opaque objects in space - such as the dense clouds of cosmic dust and gas from which stars and planets form - as well as very distant objects from the early Universe.

The observatory is being constructed by an international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile, including a significant UK contribution funded by SRFC.

  • ALMA will be a premier tool for studying the first stars and galaxies that emerged from the cosmic "dark ages" billions of years ago. These objects now are seen at great cosmic distances, with most of their light stretched out to millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe.
  • In the more nearby Universe, ALMA will provide an unprecedented ability to study the processes of star and planet formation. Unimpeded by the dust that obscures visible-light observations, ALMA will be able to reveal the details of young, still-forming stars, and is expected to show young planets still in the process of developing.
  • In addition, ALMA will allow scientists to learn in detail about the complex chemistry of the giant clouds of gas and dust that spawn stars and planetary systems.

Jodrell Bank and ALMA

Gary Fuller
Prof Gary Fuller
"Projects like ALMA require an enormous amount of patience - many of us have been working on this for more than a decade. There have been many obstacles to be overcome, but I've no doubt that it will all be worth it - it's great to see the first scientific observations beginning for astronomers from the UK and around the world."
Gary Fuller, Principal Investigator at the UK ALMA Regional Centre Node, based at The University of Manchester.

Here at Jodrell Bank Observatory we are involved in the area of digital fibre optic transmission and are developing various aspects of the system which will transmit the high-bandwidth signals from the individual antennas to the central correlator. This will be done digitally over optical fibres.

The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics hosts the UK ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) Node.

Other UK group work

Details of the other work being carried out by UK groups can be found at the ALMA-UK page and more information on the ALMA project can be found at the European ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory NRAO.

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