The inauguration for the ALMA Telescope occurred in March 2013. I was lucky enough to be a part of the small envoy of journalists selected to cover the occasion, along with EarthSky’s talented videographer Martha Morales. Below is a video we created to introduce ALMA to you! We hope you like it.
The above video contains an interview with Alison Peck, ALMA Deputy Project Scientist with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).
Visiting the high site where the telescopes are located is probably the closest I will come to visiting another planet. ALMA is located in one of the driest deserts in the world – the Atacama Desert of northern Chile – and at a very high altitude (16500 ft, 5000m). The aridity and altitude are a boon to ALMA, as moisture in the atmosphere interferes with the millimeter/submillimeter wavelength astronomers wish to study. This is desert without distraction – a landscape of brown dirt, wide blue skies, and snow-capped mountains. Everyone receives a personal oxygen tank, wide-brimmed hat, and healthy coating of sunscreen and dust. It’s still odd to think about scrambling around one of astronomy’s most powerful arrays while capturing scenic footage, interviews, and personal pictures with the antennae.
The official inauguration event occurred further down the mountain. Chilean President Piñera gave a rousing speech, U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield sent congratulations from the International Space Station, and the telescopes themselves swiveled their gaze to galactic center. By the way, the technical term for a telescope’s swiveling motion is ‘to slew’.
After the inauguration, our group of science journalists and NRAO representatives formed for an impromptu star-gazing party. If you haven’t had the chance to see stars from a desert, it’s a worthy expedition. I was especially lucky to tour the Southern Sky with a group that included ex-planetarium officials, radio astronomers, and all-around space buffs!
Visiting ALMA was an unforgettable experience. It’s amazing to think of how this new telescope will lead to so many discoveries about our universe. It was an honor and a thrill witness its inauguration.
Bottom line: The inauguration for the ALMA Telescope, high in the northern Chilean desert, occurred in March 2013. EarthSky’s Emily Howard and Morales were part of the small envoy of journalists selected to cover the occasion. Here’s a video they created to introduce ALMA to you.