19 Oct 2023



ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimetre Array), is the largest and most sensitive telescope in the world at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths.

Aerial photo of the ALMA observatory in the desert in Chile.



An image of the dishes that make up the ALMA observatory n the Atacama Desert in Chile.ALMA is what is known as an 'aperture synthesis' telescope and consists of 66 antennas, built on the 5000m high plateau at Chajnantor, in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

It can study galaxy, star and planetary system formation in unprecedented detail. With baselines between the antennas from 150m up to 16km it is possible to achieve 10 milli-arcsecond resolution, 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.

ALMA has been fully operational since 2013 and by 2018 over 1000 papers had been published using data from ALMA.

ALMA was built by a large international consortium including Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile. The UK contributed on a number of areas in this challenging and complex project.

From 1999 UK ATC has led the development of the ALMA Observing Tool, a collection of software which forms astronomer's primary interface to observing with ALMA. This tool allows observers not experienced in the complex field of submillimetre aperture synthesis observing to create observing programmes to meet their science goals, while astronomers already familiar with aperture synthesis techniques also find the tool of value to create their programmes quickly and simply. 

UK ATC also led the development of the next-generation Observing Tool. While ESO took over as project lead in 2023 we continue to be a key partner in the project. UK ATC is also working on the development of the ALMA Science Pipeline software, which automatically processes >95% of all ALMA observations to deliver quality assessed science-ready calibrated data to astronomers. 

Find out more about ALMA.