Nov. 5 - Scientists in Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of the world's most sophisticated telescope next year, which they say will reveal answers to many questions about the origins of the universe. Sitting atop a wind-swept plateau in northern Chile, the $1.3 billion ALMA observatory promises to probe deeper into space than any other telescope. Ben Gruber reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS**PART MUST COURTESY JOSE FRANCISCO SALGADO**~ Shot at high-speed, a group of precision antennas coordinate in a kind of high-tech ballet. But here, at five-thousand metres above sea level in Chile's Atacama Desert, the antennas are being prepared for work. They comprise a groundbreaking new telescope that scientists hope will answer some of the universe's greatest mysteries. Called the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, the observatory will be the world's largest, capable of probing deeper into space than any other instrument. It will allow astronomers to study wavelengths invisible to the human eye, according to ALMA's Violette Impellizzeri. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASTRONOMER, VIOLETTE IMPELLIZZERI, SAYING: "For people who don't know about ALMA, it's nice to think of it as a telescope that can see in the dark, where optical telescopes cannot see because they are covered by dust or they are hidden, ALMA can see through it and so this is what makes it special. It's not just more sensitive and bigger and faster. It actually sees through things that are not visible to our eye or even to bigger, optical telescopes." When functioning at full capacity, the telescope will produce images up to ten times sharper than NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will study light from the coldest and darkest corners of the universe, where galaxies are formed and stars are born. ALMA engineer, David Rabanus. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ALMA ENGINEER, DAVID RABANUS, SAYING: "In these receivers we detect radiation from space, so we basically convert it into an electric signal in order to make it measurable for us so that we can quantify it." The high altitude and clear, cloudless skies of the Atatacam desert provide the idela conditons for observation. ALMA's astronomers are excited by the possibilities. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASTRONOMER, VIOLETTE IMPELLIZZERI, SAYING: "The expectation everyone has at large is to find the origin of things. And I think ALMA will really contribute, I'm sure of it. " With 43 of the 66 antennas already in place, the serious business of scientific star-gazing is due to being next year.