Giant Radio Telescope in Chile Opens for Cosmic Business
by Clara Moskowitz, Assistant Managing Editor
Date: 13 March 2013 Time: 09:56 AM ET

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, Chile — High up in the Chilean desert, on a plateau so dry and red it looks like it could be Mars, dozens of giant telescope antennas stare at the sky in unison.

They are ALMA radio telescope — the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array — and together they can see deeper and farther in long-wavelength millimeter light than any instrument before. The $1.3 billion observatory, the product of 30 years of planning and 10 years of construction, is already sighting new planets in the process of forming around stars, and some of the most distant, ancient galaxies known.

To celebrate the inauguration of ALMA, officials and scientists gathered today (March 13) here at the observatory's Operations Support Facility, base camp for the telescope, which, at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), is so high that scientists must breathe supplemental oxygen to work there.

"We are very proud to inaugurate this great project in which so many people have worked so hard for so long," said the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, who visited ALMA for the occasion. "ALMA will allow us to get deeper into the universe, but also into our own nature and our own lives."