ALMA Premieres Documentary on its Shutdown During the Pandemic

ALMA Premieres Documentary on its Shutdown During the Pandemic

26 May, 2021 / Read time: 3 minutes

The global COVID-19 pandemic forced ALMA to halt its observations of the Universe and close its doors. This was an unprecedented technological and human challenge for which nobody was prepared.

A camera accompanied the team responsible for taking care of the facilities in this empty camp. What was this experience like for its technicians, engineers, and astronomers? What happens when you stop 66 antennas located at 5,000 meters above sea level? What discoveries did we miss? What is the situation today? These are some of the questions that will be answered in the premiere of the documentary, "ALMA: The Rebirth of a Giant," this Saturday at 11:00AM Chilean Time (15:00 UTC) on the observatory's social networks (Facebook and Twitter) and its YouTube channel. After the premiere, there will be a space open for viewers to share with the documentary protagonists.

Close to 30 ALMA employees, including the director, assistants and technicians, antenna operators, members of the security team, astronomers, and many other employees, gave their testimonies on their experience in this historic shutdown caused by the sanitary crisis. Together, they share the history of this unexpected year and explain how they decided to stop this massive machinery for the first time in its short existence. They explained how ALMA's mini-citadel camp, nearly 3,000 meters above sea level, was emptied and how its facilities were cared for in the absence of its staff and without water and electricity.

The only thing that remained powered during the shutdown was the Maser. This instrument allows ALMA to synchronize with the global network of observatories, which captured the first image of a black hole two years ago.

Finally, in October 2020, thanks to improved COVID-19 pandemic indicators in Chile, a decision was made to restart and repopulate the Operations Support Facilities. Not an easy feat considering that in regular times, 150 employees plus fifty or so contractors work in the facilities, located 50 km from San Pedro de Atacama.

The return to business led to creating many security protocols to avoid infected people in the workplace. These measures have proven to be effective because there were no cases reported to date.

Starting up the gas turbines that energize ALMA and checking the status of each of the 66 antennas that examine the Universe, located 5,000 meters above sea level, clearly put everyone to the test. But the employees of the largest astronomical project in the world showed that despite the adversities they have faced in the last few months, they continue to work with the same devotion in search of our cosmic origins.

The documentary is available on ALMA's Youtube Channel: