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Space Science

World's Most Powerful Telescope Begins Search For Origin of the Universe 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the where-the-sidewalk-ends dept.
MrSeb writes "The largest astronomical installation in the world is now operational. ALMA, or the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, is a vast radio telescope made out of 66 12- and 7-meter dish antennae situated 5,000m above sea level, in Chile. Its purpose is to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no telescope has gone before. But no, seriously: its job is to peer into the past and investigate ancient stars and nebulae, peer at exoplanets that might support human (or alien) life, and hopefully learn more about interstellar creation and destruction. For now only 20 out of 66 antennae are in place, but when it is complete — late next year — it will have a resolving power far greater than Hubble, according to the European Space Observatory (ESO) that operates ALMA."
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World's Most Powerful Telescope Begins Search For Origin of the Universe

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:00AM (#37589792)

    As an astrophysicist who's highly interested in using ALMA, I can say that this short description undersells the capabilities of ALMA. While the image resolution is going to be greater than that of Hubble, ALMA will also be observing wavelength ranges previously unobserved from the ground. While space based instruments such as Herschel have observed some of these ranges in the past, these observations don't even come close to the spatial resolution of ALMA.

  • Units (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:04AM (#37589828)

    How large is a "large millimeter"?

    • Re:Units (Score:5, Funny)

      by snowraver1 (1052510) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:08AM (#37589892)
      It's actually exactly an inch. The Americans were tired of being hassled for not using SI units, so they just renamed them.
      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        Ummm. you underestimate out arrogance and lack of perception of the outside world's opinion.

        We are sick of everyone else not using the imperial system (who's creators even dropped it!)
        Not of people complaining we use a non-SI system. We could care less about what everyone else thinks. That's why we have n

        • by sznupi (719324)
          You're still on a website which uses... the more international format of date :p (for example [slashdot.org], that "11/10/03" in the URL means third day of tenth month)
        • by balbord (447248)

          If you could care less why don't you? Budget restrictions?

          just sayin'

    • About the same as a wee smoot.

    • Re:Units (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZankerH (1401751) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:52AM (#37590338)
      It's (Atacama (large (millimetre array))), not (Atacama (large (millimetre)) array).

      S-expressions: They're superior to natural grammar.
    • by frisket (149522)
      It's like the difference between standard printers' points (72.27 to the inch) and Adobe's "large points" (72 to the inch).

      It lets us see the little green men even when they're not there.

      --
      The best cure for seasickness is to go sit under a tree (Spike Milligan)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ya'll don't need no fancy-schmancy teley-scope to see the church on the corner

    • by Dunega (901960)
      What's most amusing about this comment is that the poster is just as close minded as the people he's trying to make fun of.
    • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:40AM (#37590212)

      I think one of the problems with modern aastronomy is that they often cannot help BUT see that church down the street.

      I think it might have something to do with the las-vegas style neon lights, dancing searchlight beams, the well illuminated "second coming landing pad" which tries earnestly to coax jesus to put his foot down there, or the fact that it is owned and operated by Landover Ministries.

      But then again, I am one of those heathen "unsaved" that only makes 30k/year, and am excluded from even bronze level membership, so maybe I hold a little bit of jealous bias when I say that it would be a good thing to regulalrly cut power to that light pollution retching eyesore so that astronomers might get some REAL insight into the nature of the heavens, but I don't think it would be a whole lot of it.

      • by wwphx (225607)
        My wife operates a 3.5 meter telescope, fortunately a ridge blocks most of the town below, but not the air force base next door, for some reason they like to keep the lights on for their runways. She has some strong opinions about city light and Las Vegas. The funny thing is: she was invited as a guest to a convention in Vegas and we went! It was kind of amusing watching her cringe and bitch.

        If my interpretation of the bible is correct, Jesus may well appear at Landover Ministries, and utterly lay was
    • by quenda (644621)

      ya'll don't need no fancy-schmancy teley-scope to see the church on the corner

      Actually, that is true. Given that all the observable universe is receding from us, HERE is where the universe originated.
      Take that, Copernicus!

    • by Genda (560240)

      You do if you want to find more than 3 grams of collective brain tissue... Its a church of

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:26AM (#37590098)

    it will have a resolving power far greater than Hubble,

    Didn't know they operate in the same frequency band.

    • by nashv (1479253)

      They don't have to. The article is obviously talking about spatial resolution.

      • by vlm (69642)

        They don't have to. The article is obviously talking about spatial resolution.

        Which is EXACTLY why its a perfectly irrelevant, meaningless comparison.

        My orange is 5 inches in diameter as compared to my watermelon at 8 inches, therefore that is a tiny apple.

        • by nashv (1479253)

          Lateral resolution is about 0.61*wavelength / NumericalAperture. The smaller this number , the smaller the distance at which two distinct points of light can be resolved.

          It is entirely meaningful to compare the spatial resolution of two devices observing in different wavelengths. Shorter wavelengths have a lower theoretical limit , sure. But even if Hubble observes at shorter wavelengths, the ALMA has a big fucking numerical aperture. Which makes its resolution better.

          What looks like one galaxy to the Hubbl

  • Not comparable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:30AM (#37590138)
    Why is this being compared to hubble? Hubble records information in 390 to 750 nm while alma records 0.3 to 9.6 mm. I'm not saying it's not valuable, just that the comparison was a poor choice.
    • Re:Not comparable (Score:5, Informative)

      by Teun (17872) on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:37AM (#37590182) Homepage
      The comparison was not about the colours (wavelength or frequency) but about the observable resolution.

      In other words, this radio telescope will be able to discern details the Hubble cannot see.

      • by rubycodez (864176)
        meaningless. "My sonar can discern details my eye's can't. My eyes can discern details my sonar can't." it's rubbish. The Hubble can discern details in the visible spectrum that the microwave array cannot see.
        • by nashv (1479253)

          I am sure you optics whizzes understand that basic lateral resolution is about 0.61*wavelength / NumericalAperture. The smaller this number , the smaller the distance at which two distinct points of light can be resolved.

          It is entirely meaningful to compare the spatial resolution of two devices observing in different wavelengths. Shorter wavelengths have a lower theoretical limit , sure. But even if Hubble observes at shorter wavelengths, the ALMA has a big fucking numerical aperture. Which makes its resolu

  • ESO (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2011 @11:50AM (#37590316)

    ESO means European Southern Observatory not European Space Observatory!

  • If anyone remembers the awesome time lapse video of the ESO's VLT at Paranal [slashdot.org], here's a downloadable time lapse video [almaobservatory.org] of this telescope by the same guy. FYI: the VLT is at an altitude of about 2600m, this one is at about 5000m.
  • Not just ESO (Score:3, Informative)

    by dvase (1134189) on Monday October 03, 2011 @12:24PM (#37590616)
    Small correction to the summary, ESO is not the only organization operating ALMA. It is an international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.
  • What definitions are being used to declare this the "largest astronomical installation in the world" as opposed to the VLBA [wikipedia.org]? The VLBA claims to be the "world's largest, full-time astronomical instrument." [nrao.edu] I can't seem to find exact info on ALMA's baseline, but i doubt it exceeds 8611 km.
  • Farnsworth: No, I remembered that I'd built one last year.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Backronym? I don't know if this qualifies as a potential backronym, since the acronym is of english words, but alma is "soul" in spanish (and it's in chile).

    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      "Backronym?" doesn't ask anything.

      It looks like a clever acronym of English words that makes a Spanish word, giving it a pleasant double meaning. A backronym is when you name something, and come up with something for it to stand for later. AMBER Alert contains a backronym. The original name was after Amber Hagerman, so it was Amber Alert. They made a backronym to make it extra kewl.

  • Except it's probably goatse for the universe.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yes, yes, I'm sure people will say 'there is no center' but, really, if the universe is expanding then there should be some kind of 'relative' center.

    Has anyone tried to computer the red shifting and blue shifting of all the galaxies out there to see if there is some 'common' center they are shifting away from?

    • by expatriot (903070)

      From here. If you went somewhere far away and checked, it would be from there. That's because space is expanding between objects, not objects moving farther apart.

      • Yup. Think of it like you're an ant on the surface of an expanding balloon. There is no "center" to the _surface_ of the balloon. Every point on the balloon is moving away from every other point on the balloon, and the further apart two points are, the faster they are moving apart. The "surface" of the universe is 3D though. (Read Flatland [gutenberg.org], then Sphereland [amazon.com].)
        • by AP31R0N (723649)

          This is something i don't quite get. i'll give Flatland a read later.

          Even if everything is moving away from everything else, there should be some line you could draw that says everything on this side of the line is moving away from everything on that side. Do that for all three dimensions and the lines intersect at the center. Dump a bucket of marbles on the floor in a 2D Big Bang. They would be ALL moving away from SOME single thing. Even if we glue the marbles to a rubber sheet and pull it in all dir

          • Nope. There is no center, or rather, every point appears to be equivalently central. You can't mark the "center" of the surface of a sphere; that's meaningless. Sure, you can mark the center of the sphere, but the center of the sphere is not a part of the surface of the sphere. If the universe is the surface, then the center is not a part of the universe. From within the universe, the center does not exist. And sure, you could mark any point on the sphere and call it "the center", and every other point on t
            • by AP31R0N (723649)

              i'll read it. i saved the link. Thanks.

              So that should mean there would be an equal amount of mass on any side of us (unless the Big Bang was asymmetric). And that there is no edge to the universe (for things to be going into).

              i can get that from any star that all the others are moving away, but it seems like if we look at *many* stars there should be stars that are moving more away than others.

              Blerg. Head hurty.

              i'll read the thing.

  • My friend's mother's name is Alma. I feel some good "yo mamma" jokes brewing here :)

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