The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) is the largest radio telescope ever constructed and will allow astronomers to observe and image with unprecedented clarity the enigmatic cold regions of the universe. ALMA will operate at the very highest radio frequencies, between 30 and 1000 GHz. The corresponding wavelength of the radiation detected is in the electromagnetic spectrum range of 10 to 0.3 mm. It lies between the conventional radio bands and Far Infrared (FIR) bands. Construction of ALMA started in 2003 and will be completed in 2012.
ALMA is being built by a large international partnership comprising of Europe (through ESO) and North America and East Asia (Japan, Taiwan). ALMA will be the largest and most complex interferometer operating at mm and sub-mm wavelengths ever constructed and will allow astronomers to observe and image with unprecedented clarity the enigmatic cold regions of the universe. ALMA is located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile on the high-altitude (5000m) Chajnantor Plain. The project comprises fifty 12 metre antennae plus a compact array of sixteen antennae. The main antennae will be movable between locations creating a wide range of possible configurations and interferometric arrangements.
ALMA will be the foremost instrument for studying the cool universe, including the relic radiation of the Big Bang, and the molecular gas and dust that constitute stars, planetary systems and galaxies. It will detect and study the earliest and most distant galaxies and the epoch of the first light in the Universe. It will also look deep into the dust-obscured regions where stars are born to examine the details of star and planet formation. In addition to these, the array will make major contributions to virtually all fields of astronomical research.
User support for the UK community will be provided through the UK ALMA Regional Centre (ARC), based at the University of Manchester. The ARC will provide guidance on proposal preparation, advanced data reduction and interpretation techniques.
As a significant partner in the project, the UK has wide expertise in millimetre and sub-millimetre wave astronomy. Several UK hardware and science groups will build on previous experience (e.g. James Clerk Maxwell Telescope instrumentation) in their involvement with ALMA.
STFC UK Astronomy Technology Centre