According to a science journal, the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) is set to get software and hardware upgrades that will help it collect much more data and produce sharper images than ever before.
ALMA is fully functional since 2013.
The radio telescope was designed, planned and constructed by the US’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
It has helped astronomers make ground-breaking discoveries, including that of starburst galaxies and the dust formation inside supernova 1987A.
ALMA is a state-of-the-art telescope that studies celestial objects at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths — they can penetrate through dust clouds and help astronomers examine dim and distant galaxies and stars out there.
It also has extraordinary sensitivity, which allows it to detect even extremely faint radio signals.
ALMA is a radio telescope comprising 66 antennas located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
The most significant modernisation made to ALMA will be the replacement of its correlator, a supercomputer that combines the input from individual antennas and allows astronomers to produce highly detailed images of celestial objects.
ALMA is operated under a partnership among the United States, and 16 countries in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile.
ALMA’s correlators are among the world’s fastest supercomputers.
Why is ALMA located in Chile’s Atacama Desert?
ALMA is situated at an altitude of 16,570 feet (5,050 metres) above sea level on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert as the millimetre and submillimetre waves observed by it are very susceptible to atmospheric water vapour absorption on Earth.
Moreover, the desert is the driest place in the world, meaning most of the nights here are clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture — making it a perfect location for examining the universe.
In 2013 it discovered starburst galaxies earlier in the universe’s history than they were previously thought to have existed.
ALMA provided detailed images of the protoplanetary disc surrounding HL Tauri — a very young T Tauri star in the constellation Taurus, approximately 450 light years from Earth.
In 2015, the telescope helped scientists observe a phenomenon known as the Einstein ring, which occurs when light from a galaxy or star passes by a massive object en route to the Earth, in extraordinary detail.
As part of the Event Horizon Telescope project, a large telescope array consisting of a global network of radio telescopes, it provided the first image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy.