ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), the huge international telescope project that was inaugurated in Chile this week. It is located in the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth and an area that bears a striking resemblance to the Red Planet. ALMA is a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed initially of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor plateau, 5000 meters altitude in northern Chile.
A Poetic New Film Celebrates the Launch of a Galactic Telescope in Chile
Jonathan de Villiers’ The View From Mars: Part One takes an expressive look at ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), a vast international telescope project that was inaugurated in Chile this week, after decades in the making. When NASA wants to test a Mars rover or figure out how to detect life in the most inhospitable of environments, they go to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth and an area that bears a striking resemblance to the Red Planet. With an utter absence of moisture and altitudes reaching 6,885 meters, the area is a magnet for astronomers seeking the clearest skies on the globe and the least atmosphere between their telescopes and space. ALMA’s moveable group of 66 giant antennas—planted on the remote and harsh 5,200-meter high Chajnantor Plateau—do not detect visible light like conventional optical telescopes. Instead they work together to gather emissions from gas, dust and stars and make observations in millimeter wavelengths, using radio frequencies instead of visible light—with no need for darkness, so the stars can be studied around the clock. With these tools, astronomers will soon be able to look billions of years into the past, gazing at the formation of distant stars and galaxies. “In doing so,” de Villiers reveals, “they’ll build a clearer picture of how our sun and our galaxy formed.”
Jonathan de Villiers Continues His Homage to the ALMA Telescopes in an Epilogue
The austere but breathtakingly beautiful plateaus and 8.2 meter optical telescopes of Antofagasta, Chile, form the backdrop of photographer and filmmaker Jonathan de Villiers’ The View From Mars: Part 2. Documenting the astronomical breakthroughs of the Atacama Desert, he takes us 500 kilometers southeast of the ALMA project to the Very Large Telescopes (VLTs) of Paranal. Operated by the European Southern Observatory and using visible light as well as infra-red technology, this site has been in operation for over a decade but remains the most productive research factory on Earth, with an average of one scientific paper being published based on information acquired there every day. Among the countless recent and landmark advances to have been made on the premises is the remarkable documentation of an ‘exoplanet’—the first incredible images we have of a planet outside our own solar system.
Featured image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), C. Padilla
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