12 April, 2013
ALMA researchers Masato Ishiguro, Tetsuo Hasegawa, and Satoru Iguchi received the 2013 Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan.
The award winners, who are Professors at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) – a division of Natural Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS)-, led a research aimed to improve the accuracy of radio images of the ALMA telescope taken with the technique called “Aperture synthesis”. This method works by making a single virtual telescope with multiple parabolic antennas and has the advantage of being able to produce images at high resolutions.
The Aperture synthesis technique has difficulty in accurately capturing the physical state of target objects, particularly of extended structures which could be inevitably distorted due to spacing between antennas that cannot be closer than the antenna diameter (12-meters in the case of ALMA).
By adding an array of smaller antennas to a larger aperture synthesis interferometer array and synthesizing their data, the new-generation astronomical facility could better explore the birth of galaxies and planetary systems, and the origin of life.
As a result of the study, an optimal antenna diameter and optimal number and configuration of antennas were defined. While most of the 66 ALMA antennas are 12-m antennas, a small portion of them are smaller 7-m antennas which were developed and manufactured by Japan.
Ishiguro, one of the original members of the construction project as a Japanese national project at the time, expressed his joy in receiving the award saying, “March 13, 2013 was the happiest day in my life. At the closing of the inauguration ceremony, President Piñera gave a starting command and the antennas came into operation all together. It was a very impressive moment and I couldn’t help stop crying. Running through my head at that time were hardships in proceeding with the project over 30 years and many faces of my colleagues who worked together to overcome the difficulties. It is a great honor and great pleasure to receive this prestigious award soon after such a stirring event.”
Iguchi, EA project manager leading the regional East Asian ALMA project, comments: “I think this is the result of united and persistent efforts of all staff members and Japanese cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. Our aperture synthesis technique combining two types of parabolic antennas, which are different in diameter, dramatically improved the imaging accuracy. I was greatly impressed when it was demonstrated by a test observation with actual ALMA antennas.”
Hasegawa, who plays a central role in the project management as NAOJ Chile Observatory Director in Chile, mentions the potentiality of ALMA which will start its full operations this year, “ALMA is a revolutionary telescope that has the potential to change the astronomy of the 21st century. Being enhanced by ACA which is capable of capturing accurate image of extended structures, ALMA has now greater impact on astronomical researches. High precision imaging provided by ALMA will unveil mysteries of the universe such as the formation/evolution process of planetary systems and galaxies and evolution of interstellar materials leading to the birth of life.”
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile, is the largest astronomical project in existence. ALMA will be a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed initially of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor plateau, 5000 meters altitude in northern Chile.
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