Image Credit & Copyright: ESO/B. Tafreshi.
What a stunning quality image by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) photographer, Babak Tafreshi. Six of the sixty-six massive radio antennas that make up the Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-millimeter Array or “ALMA” radio observatory can be seen in this image but as stunning as ALMA is, it’s the night sky that steals the show in this image.
The Milky Way traces through the night sky with incredible detail while the zodiacal light can be seen cutting across the image in the opposite direction forming sort of an “X” with the center on the galaxy. As usual in high quality Milky Way images, that massive dust land along the plane catches your eye while just below center is the red supergiant Antares “The Heart of the Scorpion.” Continue heading down in the direction of the bottom left corner, not too far from Antares is the faint yellow light of Saturn and further still you find the planet Mars and the nearby blue supergiant Spica in Virgo.
Located 5058 meters (16,597ft.) high on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert, Chile (The driest desert in the world) sits the most powerful radio telescope as well as the most expensive ground based telescope ever created. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-millimeter Array or “ALMA” as it’s called is an interferometer of radio telescopes (66 massive 12 meter and 7 meter radio telescopes to be precise) that work at millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths. The entire array stretches a mind blowing 10 miles in diameter and has a resolving power 5 times finer than Hubble and 10 times finer than the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, USA.
Interferometry is, in short, the collection of different telescopes working together to attain a higher resolution on a given object in the universe. Also, sub-millimeter astronomy is radio astronomy conducted at wavelengths longer than radio waves and shorter than visible light waves.
ALMA is a member of the European Southern Observatory and is a collaboration between European Nations, United States, Canada, East Asia as well as the Republic of Chile. Its main goal is to peer through material in molecular clouds and study regions of new star formation, stellar evolution, stellar death, planetary systems, galaxies as well as the origins of life itself. It is the highest ground based observatory on Earth and its correlator supercomputer is the fastest ever used at an astronomical site.
On site you will also find the Atacama Compact Array (ACA) which is a subset of 16 radio telescopes (12-7 meter antennas and 4-12 meter antennas) designed to observe large angular size objects such as close galaxies and molecular clouds.
ALMA homepage: http://www.almaobservatory.org/
European Southern Observatory (ESO) page for this image: http://www.eso.org/public/usa/images/ann14045a/