International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Upgrades in the ALMA Telescope


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ALMA Telescope

Mains level : NA


The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) — a radio telescope in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile is set to get software and hardware upgrades.

What is ALMA?

  • ALMA is a state-of-the-art telescope that studies celestial objects at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths which can penetrate through dust clouds.
  • It helps astronomers examine dim and distant galaxies and stars out there.
  • It also has extraordinary sensitivity, which allows it to detect even extremely faint radio signals.
  • The telescope consists of 66 high-precision antennas, spread over a distance of up to 16 km.
  • Each antenna is outfitted with a series of receivers, and each receiver is tuned to a specific range of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Who operates ALMA?

  • ALMA is operated under a partnership among the United States, 16 countries in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile.
  • Fully functional since 2013, the radio telescope was designed, planned and constructed by US, Japan and EU.

Why is ALMA located in Chile’s Atacama Desert?

  • ALMA is situated at an altitude of 16,570 feet (5,050 metres) above sea level on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
  • The high altitude and low humidity of the site make it an ideal location for a radio telescope, as there is minimal atmospheric interference.
  • Moreover, the desert is the driest place in the world, meaning most of the nights here are clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture — making it a perfect location for examining the universe.

Significant discoveries

  • One of the earliest findings came in 2013 when it discovered starburst galaxies earlier in the universe’s history than they were previously thought to have existed.
  • These newly discovered galaxies represent what today’s most massive galaxies looked like in their energetic, star-forming youth.
  • In 2015, the telescope helped scientists observe a phenomenon known as the Einstein ring, which occurs when light from a galaxy or star passes by a massive object en route to the Earth, in extraordinary detail.


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