Probing the secrets of the universe

A view of radio telescope antennas at the most complex astronomical observatory ever built on Earth, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (Alma) project.

The project is at the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama desert.

It is some 1,500km north of the country's capital, Santiago.

Alma consists of 66 high-precision dish antennas, or radio telescopes, that can study cosmic light that straddles the boundary between radio and infrared.

The development of Alma has allowed the opening of a new window to the universe, capturing never-before-seen details about the very first stars and galaxies, probing the heart of the Milky Way galaxy.

Alma also provides an unprecedented ability to study the processes of star and planet formation, revealing the details of young, still-forming stars, and showing young planets in the process of developing.

Many other astronomical specialties benefit from the new capabilities of Alma, including mapping gas and dust in the Milky Way and other galaxies; investigating ordinary stars; analysing gas from an erupting volcano on Jupiter's moon, Io; and studying the origin of the solar wind.

This breakthrough scientific instrument was developed by teams from North America, East Asia and Europe.

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