COVID-19 (coronavirus) Measures at ALMA

COVID-19 (coronavirus) Measures at ALMA

15 April, 2021 / Read time: 10 minutes

April 15, 2021

Cicle 7 observations update

Since 17 March 2021, the 12-m Array has consistently been used for PI science observations, usually using more than 37 antennas in the 12m Array. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Chile will have an impact on ALMA observations. Several areas of in Chile are back to full lockdown and the anticipated addition of more staff to the ALMA site to conduct the change of ALMA configurations will be delayed by a minimum of 20 days.

While ALMA will continue to conduct Cycle 7 science observations in the current C43-5 configuration on a best-effort basis, the move to more extended configurations will be postponed until at least early May. This is to ensure the safety of all ALMA staff, as well as the Array, and to plan for a smooth transition to the start of Cycle 8 2021 in October.

The ALMA Regional Centers also continue to provide support for ALMA users.

January 25, 2021

Array Recovery Status Update

While the COVID-19 pandemic persists all around the world, ALMA staff at the JAO and in the regions continue to work towards bringing the array back online, with the ultimate goal to resume science operations and deliver high-quality science data to our users.

At this moment, the ALMA antennas are in the process of being powered up and inspected after having been stowed for about 300 days. The central local oscillator and the two correlators at the high site have successfully been restarted and the first antennas have been paired up to perform initial interferometric testing by science operations. On the other hand, the ALMA Regional Centres (ARCs) continue to assist ALMA users with the reduction and analysis of existing data.

The Operations Support Facility (OSF) can now sustain a minimum number of ALMA staff, nevertheless, the way towards science observations is still long and uncertain and heavily depends on issues that may be discovered as well as on the pandemic situation in Chile and the rest of the world.

November 20, 2020

Status of the ALMA recovery process

The pandemic situation in Chile is remaining stable and over the past few weeks ALMA staff have been moving forward with ALMA’s plan to recover the telescope array in the Atacama, as announced on October 1st, 2020.

At this stage, the news is positive. The first phase of the plan – preparing the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) at 2900 metres and returning a limited number of staff and contractors to staying on site at the OSF – is well underway and on track thanks to the hard work and dedication of the ALMA staff. Readiness for the next phase – the beginning of the process of restarting the Array Operations Site (AOS) at 5000 metres – is currently being assessed. As always, the top priority throughout this process is the health and safety of all our staff, who are working within an extensive set of enhanced safety protocols.

However, the road to recovery of operations - and ultimately science observations - will be long, and it remains difficult to predict the exact timeline as it depends on many factors. If the recovery continues according to plan, January 2021 is the earliest there may be enough functional antennas and cooled receivers to attempt the first science test observations, followed by the regular February maintenance period. March 2021 thus remains the earliest it may be possible to attempt regular science operations.

October 1, 2020

ALMA initiates a long process of restarting the array

With the improving pandemic situation in Chile, ALMA is now scheduled to begin the long process of recovering the telescope array in the Atacama, starting with the preparation of the Observatory Operations Support Facility (OSF) at 2,900 meters above sea level for the return of staff and contractors.

The ALMA Operations Support Center (OSF) uninhabited as a result of the pandemic.
Credit: X-CAM / ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO)

For the last six months, the whole ALMA site was shut down, including power, water treatment, and running water. Only a single piece of key equipment, the hydrogen maser, is still powered and checked daily by the ALMA Caretaker Teams, who have ensured the safety and security of the Observatory through the shutdown. 

The road to recovery of operations, and ultimately science observations – a milestone that will not take place this year - has been carefully planned. It assumes that the pandemic situation in Chile and worldwide will continue to improve. Regular monitoring of the pandemic evolution is performed each week. 

ALMA developed an extensive set of enhanced safety protocols related to managing the risk posed by the virus, covering all activities as the recovery of operations progresses. First, preparing the OSF for the return of staff and contractors, followed by moving back into the OSF and the use of the OSF facilities, before we begin the process of restarting the Array Operations Site (AOS) at 5,000 meters above sea level. Without doubt, each of the phases will take time and patience, establishing and working within new safety protocols while stabilizing observatory systems that have been shut down for six months, a situation which is unprecedented in the history of the ALMA.

Status updates will continue to be provided as ALMA transitions from one phase to the next one, as the recovery of operations progresses. 


May 28, 2020

Update on the Status of ALMA 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the global community, including ALMA users and staff. While Observatory operations remain suspended, we have been working actively on plans to restart operations at a time that it is feasible. In these unprecedented circumstances, our first priority is the health and safety of all our staff, many of whom travel long distances by bus and plane to reach the remote ALMA telescope site in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. 

At this time, and given the current evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chile, it is unclear when a ramp-up to start operations could begin, or when a restart of science operations will be possible. ALMA is working on guidelines and considerations for the restart of operations and will provide a next update to the community in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Caretaker teams  continue to maintain the safety of the ALMA equipment and infrastructure in both Santiago and in San Pedro de Atacama, while all other staff continue to work remotely from their homes.  


Updated April 24, 2020

ALMA Cycle 8 postponed until 2021 and Cycle 7 will continue

On behalf of the ALMA Director, with support from all Executives and the ALMA Board, the recent decisions taken regarding the status of Cycle 7 and Cycle 8 are as follows:

  • The start of ALMA Cycle 8 has been postponed until 2021 October. It is anticipated that the Cycle 8 Call for Proposals will open again in 2021 March.
  • ALMA Cycle 7 will continue through 2021 September, with currently non-completed projects ranked A, B and C remaining in the observing queue.

There remain many questions outstanding regarding resuming observations and accepting future proposals during these uncertain times. ALMA is working on these questions and will provide a next update to the community in the coming weeks.

The ALMA Regional Centers (ARCs) continue to provide support to their communities. Please contact the ALMA Helpdesk at if you have any questions, comments or concerns.


Updated April 17, 2020

ALMA Cycle 8 Call for Proposals Suspended due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has continued to affect the global community, including ALMA users and staff. ALMA operations remain suspended, as announced on March 20. Under these difficult and unprecedented circumstances, the ALMA Director, with support from all Executives, has decided to suspend the submission of Cycle 8 proposals until further notice. The proposal submission server will be closed as of 15:00UT on Friday, 17 April, 2020.

We appreciate the community has worked hard on new science ideas for Cycle 8, even under such difficult conditions. We also realize the work the community has done in generating an exciting Cycle 7 observing program. At this time, our priority is the health and well-being of the global community.

New timelines for Cycle 7 and 8 will be announced in the coming weeks as the global situation evolves.

These times offer unprecedented stress and challenges for our community members and their families. Our thoughts go out to all those affected by the current situation. The ALMA Regional Centers (ARCs) continue to provide support to their communities. Please contact the ALMA Helpdesk at if you have any questions or concerns.


Updated April 2, 2020.

Total Shutdown of ALMA

ALMA shut down its operations on March 22 due to the developments related to coronavirus. “We made the unprecedented decision to shut down ALMA for the well-being and health of all staff, to ensure they can be at home with their families while this pandemic unfolds. An incredible effort was made by staff to ensure a safe and successful shutdown,” indicated the ALMA Director, Sean Dougherty. He added that “a team continues  working at the observatory to keep vital telescope systems operational and ensure that  we are ready to restart operations whenever that is feasible.”

The last scientific observations were completed on Thursday, March 19. Many ALMA staff are now working from home and the observatory has implemented technical support to facilitate teleworking.

The observation proposal deadline for Cycle 8 was postponed until a date to be determined, which will be no sooner than May 19, 2020. In addition, the proprietary times of ALMA data sets have been extended by three months.


Updated, March 19, 2020.

With the current developments in Chile related to coronavirus, the ALMA Director decided to initiate preparations for the total shutdown of the Observatory. This shutdown will enable ALMA staff to reduce social contact through not traveling to and from the Observatory, better protect them and their families, and help reduce the spread of the virus.

The current plan is:

  • All Santiago-based staff is now working from home. The Observatory is emplacing technical support to teleworking, as necessary.
  • The last science observations will be completed by 21:00 Thursday, March 19, and shut down procedures of the ALMA observatory will start. 
  • The number of staff and contractors at the Observatory site in the Atacama is being reduced and will continue until the telescope shutdown completes on Sunday, March 22.
  • ALMA Observatory staff will continue to ensure the safety and security of the site during the shutdown.

Delay of the Cycle 8 Proposal Submission Deadline

The ALMA Director, along with the regional partners, have decided to delay the proposal deadline for the ALMA Cycle 8 Call for Proposals to no earlier than 15:00 UT on May 19, 2020.


Updated, March 17, 2020.

Visits to ALMA

All public visits, including educational, institutional, and media visits to the observatory, are suspended until further notice.


Unless mission-critical or time-critical, meetings with external participants at either Santiago headquarters or the observatory in northern Chile, are suspended until further notice. Whenever possible, meetings should be held by videoconference or postponed. 

ALMA Proposal Review Committee (APRC)

Contingency plans for the ALMA Proposal Review Committee for Cycle 8 proposals of observation, scheduled for June in Atlanta, USA, are being developed to ensure the credibility of the review and the wellbeing of the scientists from around the world who participate. 

Duty Travel

No new international duty trips are being approved. All staff members who have traveled to countries designated CDC Warning Level 3 are to complete a 14-day self-quarantine at home after their return from travel. 

Since this is a rapidly evolving situation, ALMA management will be regularly re-evaluating the situation. We ask for the understanding of all affected by these extraordinary measures.