The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), set on a 5,000-metre-high plateau in Chile, will ultimately consist of 66 dish antennas. R. DURÁN/ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA


Mega-array reveals birthplace of giant stars

Early results from Atacama telescope signal the opening of a scientific frontier.

Eric Hand
18 December 2012

Astronomers have punched through a brick wall. They have seen into the heart of a massive cloud of cold dust and gas near the Galactic Centre that, because it blocks visible light, had been dubbed the ‘brick’. Viewed in millimetre waves (which have wavelengths between those of microwaves and radio waves), the faintly glowing dust reveals knots of gas — the embryos of stars, seen in such detail that they could show how the Galaxy’s most massive stars are born.

The images testify to the penetrating vision of astronomy’s newest global megaproject, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. “Up till now we’ve just been looking at big blobs,” says Jill Rathborne of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s Astronomy and Space Science division in Sydney, Australia. She likens the new images to seeing the details of a tree. “Now we’re looking at the limbs, the branches, the flowers and the roots.”

Read more: Mega-array reveals birthplace of giant stars : Nature News & Comment.

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