ALMA Gets a New Heartbeat
6 February, 2024 / Read time: 2 minutes
A 'heart transplant' has just been conducted at 5.000 meters above sea level in the Chajnantor Plateau: the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has successfully installed a new hydrogen maser, which has been operational since January 2024.
Funded by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), an ALMA partner on behalf of North America, this upgrade marks an essential advancement in the quest for astronomical breakthroughs, setting a new standard in reliability for observations.
A hydrogen maser, an advanced atomic clock, uses the properties of the hydrogen atom to provide an extremely precise and stable frequency reference. This precision is crucial for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations, enabling synchronization of cosmic signals received by networks of telescopes spread across the globe.
The seamless integration of the new hydrogen maser into the ALMA array was supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory.
Additionally, to enhance operational robustness, the original maser remains operating as a backup. This strategic decision bolsters ALMA's resilience against potential system failures and emphasizes our commitment to reliable, continuous astronomical research.
The new maser, now the heartbeat of ALMA operations, ensures a high level of accuracy essential for explorations of the Universe, especially in the longest baselines. And more than a technological enhancement, this upgrade solidifies ALMA's position at the forefront of astronomical research, enabling it to uncover more mysteries of the Universe with greater reliability.
ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada), NSTC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO and NAOJ.