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Utah Skies: Atacama Large Millimeter Array

By Iztok Bončina/ESO -, CC BY 4.0,

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array also known by the acronym ALMA is a large interferometer of 66 radio telescopes located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chili. The array of radio telescopes is located at an altitude of 16,000 feet which allows it to see sub millimeter wavelengths that would otherwise be absorbed by the atmosphere if it were located at lower altitudes.

The radio dishes that range from 7 to 12 meters in diameter can be positioned from as close as 150 meters up to 16 kilometers apart. The different configurations enable the resolution of the telescope to vary depending on the object being studied.

The radio signals of the entire array can be combined together to form radio images of high resolution. ALMA has studied ordinary stars and discovered rings of planet forming dust orbiting these stars. By observing these star systems they can detect the formation of planets in their early stages and their evolution over time.

Also the dust and gas of the Milky Way and other galaxies can be studied to learn new information that would not be known even with the largest optical telescopes on earth.

ALMA can also observe the sun to help understand the corona where the temperature can reach millions of degrees even though the Sun’s surface is only a little over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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