SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile’s Atacama Desert is a remote region in the northern part of the Andean nation that is sparsely populated, dry and barren. In other words, it’s the perfect place to set up the world’s biggest radio telescope.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, will search for clues about the dawn of the cosmos — from the coldest gases and dust where galaxies are formed to the energy produced by the Big Bang.
“In fact, it’s more powerful than all of the other radio telescopes in the world put together,” Andreas Lundgren, a Swedish astronomer at the site, told the Miami Herald.
Most of the 66 radio antennas will be inaugurated Wednesday in an official ceremony.
ALMA also reaches farther than any other radio telescope and has captured images different from anything seen before by visible-light and infrared telescopes.
“What we’re starting to do with ALMA is to identify those parts of the universe that contain the ingredients for life,” said Ewine van Dishoeck, a Dutch astronomy and professor of astrophysics at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “What ALMA can do is zoom into those areas where planets are being formed and see if those ingredients are present.”
The $1.5 billion project is jointly funded by the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe. It is an engineering triumph that launches Chile to the forefront of ground-based space exploration.
Chile has in recent years become a Mecca for astronomers, especially in the Atacama, where the sparsely-populated, open spaces allow for unimpeded views of the sky.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.