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Elevation of the ALMA Telescope

31 December, 2009 / Read time: 2 minutes

This brief video shows an aerial view from the Chilean Altiplano, where the Operation Support Facilities (OSF) of ALMA was built, 9500 feet above sea level. The footage shows the flora and fauna and the dry of the local ecosystem.

At 16,500 feet, lays the Array Operations Site (AOS), the highest radio telescope array on the planet. After searching the world over for the perfect place to receive millimetric and submillimetric waves, scientists identified a plateau where the conditions were unmatched: Chajnantor. In the middle of the Atacama desert in northern Chile, they found a vast expanse of plains at five thousand meters above sea level, where the climate’s extreme aridity presented the perfect conditions for receiving cosmic waves. At a high altitude, with a broad surface and favorable climate, ALMA had found its home.

However, they were not the first to discover this key site. Proof of this lies in the origin of the word Chajnantor, meaning “place of departure” in the Kunza language of the Atacameños, or Likan Antai, the original indigenous people who have been coming to this site to scrutinize the heavens for centuries.

All of ALMA’s operations are carried out in territory provided in a concession by the government of Chile in the Atacama desert. Although the landscape is stark, there are communities that have lived here for a long time.

Credits: National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)