Insider’s Look at a Radio Observatory

Cross-posted on CosmoQuest

Well hello, everyone. I am finally just about done with pictures and video from my trip to see ALMA in Chile a few weeks ago. I still have some podcast content to cut together and post on our brand new 365 Days of Astronomy website, but I thought I’d share all the goodness so far.

As mentioned in a previous post, I was invited to join a group of journalists hosted by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) to visit one of the most badass telescopes around on the even of its inauguration. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, is a radio interferometer that will greatly improve astronomers’ ability to probe star formation, planet formation, and the formation of galaxies. So, basically, it studies young things! This is a ground-based telescope on a scale we’ve never seen before, and for a fraction of the cost of your typical space-based observatory.

First, we spent a bit of time in Santiago, Chile, where several inauguration events were being held. You can find the pictures of our jaunts on Flickr and my blog post for Discovery about the Metro exhibit and opera performance. I hope I can slip a few seconds of the performance into my podcast, but the whole thing is under copyright, so you had to be there to experience it! How I’d love to see more public displays of love for science here in the US!

Finally, we got up to the Atacama Desert and the observatory itself for the big tour. Even though we only had a few hours at the high site, the actual place where the antennas are located, it was the highlight of the experience. Get a preview of that and some of the operations at the “low site” the day before inauguration in my “home movie” below.

[youtube]I’ve also posted some quick clips of the antennas “dancing” to George Hrab and the robot arm mucking about. Though you can view all the pictures in one big set, I’d point you specifically to the highlights I collected for Discovery.

The day of the inauguration itself was full of celebration and speeches, but I was specifically interested in the new science results that were announced that day. With just the early science array, some truly impressive starbursts were seen in the early universe. This particular study shows the power of ALMA as a redshift finding machine for star-forming galaxies across a wide swath of the universe’s history.

I’ll admit. I wasn’t always an ALMA fan. The science to be done at that wavelength is fascinating, but after a decade of hearing how AMAZING a telescope that doesn’t exist yet is GOING to be… you get a bit bored. I wanted to see some action. Well, thanks to the NRAO, I HAVE seen the promise of the science and the amazingly precise machine itself. I’m a convert. I stopped worrying and love the ALMA!

Oh! I almost forgot. I got to do an impromptu Hangout from the operations site with Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society where we interviewed a number of scientists and engineers on the ALMA project. I’m so thankful to our guests for sitting in on another one of our crazy Hangout experiments, and I’m glad those of you that did catch it live enjoyed. It’s still quite fun if you want to watch the recording:

[youtube]I hope I got to bring you along on my journey in some way through these videos and images and blog posts. As a scientist and a fan of science, I can’t truly describe how awe-inspiring it is to see a big project like this actually come to life, to work well, and to anticipate its future. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to bring some ALMA images into the citizen science fold one day. Would you like to explore the submillimeter sky, too?

2 thoughts on “Insider’s Look at a Radio Observatory

  1. Well done young lady!
    It is great that you are make a name for Astronmy and Astrophisics!


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