The new observatory inaugurated last week here in northern Chile's Atacama desert is a showcase for cutting-edge technology that is expected to provide startling new insights.

Perched 5,200 meters (17,049) above sea level, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, is the fruit of a decade of work and a $1.4 billion investment by North America, Europe and East Asia in partnership with Chile.

ALMA's 66 dish antennas work together as a single telescope to detect light that is invisible to the naked eye.

Signals from the individual antennas are merged and process by a custom-made supercomputer known as the ALMA Correlator.

"It's the most powerful computing machine there is in the world" with a capacity equal to that of 3 million normal computers, the person in charge of the Correlator, Alejandro Saez, said.

The advanced systems were built by companies from the countries participating in the ALMA project, including Spain, one of the 13 nations that form the European Southern Observatory.

"Spain has manufactured essential ingredients of ALMA, some of them of really high technological value," ESO Council chair Xavier Barcons told Efe.

"That demonstrates that there is a capacity and knowledge in Spain that can be applied to high-tech projects," the Spanish scientist said. EFE