• European Receiver Shipped to ALMA from STFC?s Oxfordshire Laboratory

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European Receiver Shipped to ALMA from STFC?s Oxfordshire Laboratory

May 19 2009

Equipment destined for an international project which will broaden our knowledge of the universe has been shipped from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire to Chile. The first of the vital receiver systems which have been assembled and tested at the European Front-End Integration Centre (FEIC) located at RAL, will become part of the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array (ALMA) project in the Atacama Desert in Chile. ALMA is a huge set-up of sixty six individual antennas, of 12- and 7- metre diameter, that when electronically combined simulate a telescope diameter of up to 15km – more than a thousand times the size of a single antenna! The telescope operates in the millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelength window, which is invisible to the human eye and lies between the infrared and radio regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Its vast size will allow astronomers to detect signals within and outside of our galaxy with greater clarity than has previously been possible. ALMA will be used to detect and study the earliest and most distant galaxies and will also probe deep into dustobscured regions where visible-light observations cannot be made and allow us to investigate the birthplace of stars and planets.

The receiver, which will be the first to be added to the array from Europe (the very first was sent from the USA last year), is designed to detect extremely faint signals from space. This is the first of 26 units to be sent to Chile from the FEIC over a three year period. RAL was awarded the contract from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in late 2007, because of its substantial heritage and expertise in the field of millimetre and sub-millimetre wave technology, and its large-scale facilities that are ideally suited to the FEIC infrastructure requirements.

Professor Brian Ellison, ALMA UK Project Manager, based at RAL said; "This is a major milestone for the ALMA project and in particular with respect to its European contribution. Expert teams in Europe, North America and East Asia have combined their skills to produce cutting edge technology for ALMA. I am delighted that the UK, in addition to its many other technical and scientific contributions to the array, is playing such a vital and successful role in the provision of the core receiver technology’’. Wolfgang Wild, ALMA Project Manager at ESO, says: "We are very happy to provide the first European receiver to the observatory in Chile. These receivers contain the finest state-of-the-art technology from Europe, North America and East Asia.”

Gie Han Tan from ESO, Manager responsible for all European ALMA Front End activities, says: “This delivery involves the most advanced sub-millimetre receiver currently available in the world. I’m proud to have been working towards this important milestone with colleagues from all ALMA partners and within ESO. It is the result of many years of development, very hard work and commitment of all contributors.”