ALMA - The World's Largest Radio-telescope

Looking Into the Beginning of Time

Alberto D. Bolatto

Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park

Videography by Nerine & Robert Clemenzi, Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.


On March 13th 2013 the most powerful telescope for millimeter and sub-millimeter waves was inaugurated in northern Chile. Called ALMA ("soul" in Spanish), the array comprises 66 parabolic radio dishes of exquisite accuracy that work together as an interferometer to form the equivalent of a telescope several kilometers in diameter. It is the product of a world-wide collaboration, located high in Atacama plateau, at 5000 meter of altitude in one of the driest places on Earth - where the atmosphere is transparent to very high frequency radio waves. These waves allow us to pierce through shrouds of dust around newly formed stars, observe galaxies in the very early universe, and detect molecules in interstellar space. With sensitivity and resolution over an order of magnitude better than its predecessors, ALMA will enable qualitative jumps in our understanding of the processes that shape stars and planetary systems, galaxies, and ultimately the universe. In this talk I will describe the instrument, the technology behind it, some of the early science results and the likely scientific breakthroughs that will be made using it.

About the Author:

Alberto Bolatto

Alberto Daniel Bolatto was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He studied Electrical Engineering and Astronomy at the Universidad de la República, obtaining a Licenciado en Astronomía, doing research in cometary dynamics and gravitational microlensing. In 1993 he became a Presidential University Graduate Fellow at Boston University, where he obtained a Ph.D. in Astronomy working with James M. Jackson in submillimeter-wave astronomy. He traveled four times to the South Pole research station working on AST/RO (the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory), and spent about a month on the ice each time. He was a Postdoctoral Scholar and then Research Astronomer at UC Berkeley, where he pursued work on instrumentation development (constructing the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy, CARMA) and extragalactic science. Since 2007 he has been a Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland. He is an NSF CAREER Fellow, a Cottrell Fellow and a Humboldt Fellow, recipient of the Antarctica Service Medal, and he serves as Vice Chair (North America) of the ALMA Science Advisory Committee. Alberto and his wife Liliana have three wonderful children who keep them very busy.

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