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ALMA Telescope Basics

31 December, 2009 / Read time: 1 minute

In 2013, the ALMA telescope was inaugurated, becoming the world's most powerful millimeter/submillimeter telescope.

The 16 telescopes from Japan are rooted on their pads in the heart of the array. Surrounding them are 50 moveable telescopes built by American and European partners. Across the plain, an additional 126 empty pads offer different positions for ALMA's moveable telescopes, changing how the array views the sky.

At its smallest size, ALMA is 492 feet (150 m) across. The largest distance that ALMA's eye can extend is 11 miles (16 km).

When the telescopes are closer together, ALMA is more sensitive, able to show us the plumes of gas pouring out of active galaxies, the signatures of gas and dust surrounding new stars, and giant clouds of exotic molecules in nearby galaxies.

In larger configurations, ALMA sees the gritty details, such as black holes spinning deep inside active galaxies, the telltale signs of planets forming around other suns, and galaxies forming at the beginning of the Universe.