ALMA started its scientific operations in September 2011 while still under construction. Since that time, with less than a quarter of its antennas, it has achieved numerous discoveries.
The first scientific image published by ALMA, taken when it had only 12 antennas in operation, shows the galaxies from the Antennas like never before, revealing massive concentrations of gas in the collision zones, a rich reserve of matter for future generations of stars.
In April 2012, ALMA made another discovery: After pointing only four of its antennas towards one of the brightest stars in the sky, named Fomalhaut, a group of astronomers obtained an unprecedented image of the disc surrounding the star, orbiting right between two planets.
That same year, scientists observing with ALMA found sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young star similar to the Sun. By detecting the wave spectra unique to each molecule, similar to a fingerprint, for the first time ever, astronomers detected glycolaldehyde near a star, which proves that certain chemical elements necessary for life may have already existed in the Solar System when the planets were formed.
Soon ALMA reached another scientific milestone when it revealed a surprising spiral structure in the matter surrounding the giant red star R Sculptoris. These results were published in the prestigious scientific journal Science.
Since then, scientists around the world have used ALMA to make countless discoveries and findings. One of the most noteworthy of these are the images obtained in ALMA’s first long baseline campaign, which spaced the antennas at a distance up to 15 kilometers between each, reaching the greatest angular resolution (detail) to date. This campaign resulted in exceptional results, such as the protoplanetary disc HL Tau, the Einstein ring on SDP.81 or the observation of the Juno asteroid.