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Taiwan-sponsored telescope project passes major milestone

ROC Central News Agency

2009.06.02 17:45:17

By Y.L. Kao

Taipei, June 2 (CNA) The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) , a major international telescope project, in which Taiwan is a participant, achieved a major milestone in late April when faint radio waves emitted by Mars were first collected by two 12- meter diameter ALMA antennas, Taiwan's National Science Council (NSC) announced Tuesday.

The ALMA project is an international collaboration among East Asia, Europe, and North America in cooperation with Chile.

The ALMA Operations Support Facility, located 5,000 meters above sea level in the Chilean Atacama desert, is the highest site for ground-based astronomy, Liu Sheng-yuan, an NSC assistant research fellow and a scientist in the project, said at a briefing on the project.

The NSC, in conjunction with Taiwan's top research institute Academia Sinica, have injected US$32 million in the project, Liu added.

On April 30, the ALMA research team observed the first fringes--a regular pattern of alternating strong and weak signals-- by the two ALMA antennas as Mars moved across the sky. The signals were then processed by state- of-the-art electronics to turn the two antennas into a single, high- resolution telescope system, called an interferometer, according to Liu.

ALMA is the most ambitious project in millimeter and submillimeter astronomy which will comprise 66 antennas observing in unison as a single giant telescope when it is completed in 2012.

However, scientific observations will start from 2011, Liu added.

The array is expected to resolve distant objects at least five to 10 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, which can enable people in Taipei in the north to observe a one-dollar coin in the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung, Liu added.

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