The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA; almaobservatory.org), a joint North American, East Asian, European and Chilean venture, started scientific observations in 2011 and is the largest, most powerful astronomical project in existence. Positioned at a staggering 5000m above sea level at a site east of San Pedro de Atacama called the Chajnantor plateau, this is the highest astronomical observatory of its kind on the planet. The ALMA uses state of the art technology, initially comprising 66 giant high-precision antennae working together at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. These can be moved up to 16km across the desert, but act as a single giant telescope. ALMA’s slogan – “in search of our cosmic origins” – gives an exciting sense of what this project is really about.

For the first time in history, astrologers will be able to study new stars being born, watch planetary systems and galaxies with unprecedented clarity, and, with time, be able to answer big questions about the origins of life itself.

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