, Volume 313, Issue 1-3, pp 1-7
Date: 24 Oct 2007

The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array: overview & status

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The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) is an international millimeter-wavelength radio telescope under construction in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. ALMA will be situated on a high-altitude site at 5000 m elevation which provides excellent atmospheric transmission over the instrument wavelength range of 0.3 to 3 mm. ALMA will be comprised of two key observing components—a main array of up to sixty-four 12-m diameter antennas arranged in a multiple configurations ranging in size from 0.15 to ∼18 km, and a set of four 12-m and twelve 7-m antennas operating in a compact array ∼50 m in diameter (known as the Atacama Compact Array, or ACA), providing both interferometric and total-power astronomical information. High-sensitivity dual-polarization 8 GHz-bandwidth spectral-line and continuum measurements between all antennas will be available from two flexible digital correlators.

At the shortest planned wavelength and largest configuration, the angular resolution of ALMA will be 0.005″. The instrument will use superconducting (SIS) mixers to provide the lowest possible receiver noise contribution, and special-purpose water vapor radiometers to assist in calibration of atmospheric phase distortions. A complex optical fiber network will transmit the digitized astronomical signals from the antennas to the correlators in the Array Operations Site Technical Building, and post-correlation to the lower-altitude Operations Support Facility where the array will be controlled, and initial construction and maintenance of the instrument will occur. ALMA Regional Centers in the US, Europe, Japan and Chile will provide the scientific portals for the use of ALMA; early science observations are expected in 2010, with full operations in 2012.