Scientists at the National Research Council facility on Little Saanich Mountain Wednesday celebrated Canada’s contributions to the largest ground-based astronomical project in the world.
The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array — known as ALMA — was “inaugurated” Wednesday, meaning it has moved from its construction phase to being a full-fledged observatory.
The telescope is made up of 66 radio antennas that focus on minute wavelengths of light in deep space. From the data it gathers, scientists gain a deeper understanding of processes such as the formation of the universe.
“It is breathtaking,” said astronomer Douglas Johnstone of the ALMA observatory, which is located in a high-altitude desert in Chile.
“It’s an amazing place to go to, an absolutely fabulous place.”
The radio antennas are located on a plateau, separated from each other by a kilometre, and connected by cables.
“You need to know the separation of the telescopes, including all the wiggles in the cable, to a fraction of a millimetre, basically the width of a human hair,” Johnstone said.
The telescope looks into deep space and detects carbon monoxide, he said.
“This telescope is used to look at old things, it’s used to look at cold things and we say it’s used to look at dirty things because the stuff that emits a lot of the radiation that shows it’s cold, is the dust,” Johnstone said.
The NRC designed, developed and delivered 73 receivers to the $1.4-billion project, which are used for tests and calibrations of the system.
NRC Herzberg in Saanich is one of the few facilities in the world with expertise in superconducting detector technology for millimetre waves.
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