ALMA’s Antennae

Last December I was at an ALMA workshop, predicting that there would be beautiful first images from the new array within a year. Today one arrived, and it didn’t disappoint:

The Antennae galaxies as seen by ALMA (red, pink & yellow) and Hubble (blue)

This is ALMA’s view of the giant clouds of star-forming gas (red, pink and yellow) in the Antennae – a pair of colliding spiral galaxies – combined with the stars seen in the same system by the optical Hubble Space Telescope (blue). For lots more detail on the story check out this nice BBC News article. This image was made with only a small fraction of the dishes that will make up the final array so, all in all, the future’s looking pretty good for ALMA.

ALMA nearly ready

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I’m in Manchester for a few days this week at a workshop preparing for `Early Science’ with the new Atacama Large Milimetre Array (ALMA for short) that’s been under construction for several years now. The final telescope will consist of 66 linked antennas, but the current plan is to have about 16 in place by next year, and to let astronomers have a go on them to see how everything works!

As you can tell from its full name, ALMA is in the Atacama desert – a very high, very dry site in Chile. Observers won’t get to go out and see it in person, but I was lucky enough to see some of the prototype 12 metre antennas for it when we were both at the Very Large Array in 2006:

ALMA is going to be a fantastic instrument. The wavelengths at which it operates are ideal for revealing previously hidden details about how stars and galaxies form. It will even be able to see this sort of thing happening in some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. It operates in a similar wavelength range to the Herschel Space Telescope, and complements it nicely – it will be able to have a very detailed look at interesting things Herschel finds in its large surveys.

I’m sure that by this time next year ALMA will have produced some impressive first light pictures and hopefully will be living up to everyone’s expectations. I’m looking forward to it.