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The ALMA Correlator

31 December, 2009 / Read time: 1 minute

The ALMA correlator’s 134 million processors continually combine and compare faint celestial “signals” received by the dish-shaped antennas in the ALMA array, enabling the antennas to work together as a single, enormous astronomical telescope. 

At 16,500 feet, the air is thin, so twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine, which draws some 140 kilowatts of power. Computer disk drives will not work reliably in thin air, so the correlator and its associated computers must be diskless. Seismic activity is common, so the correlator had to be designed to withstand the vibrations associated with earthquakes.

Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and designed, constructed, and installed primarily by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the ALMA correlator is a critical component in a radio telescope system that astronomers are already using to make new discoveries about how planets, stars, and galaxies form.

Credits: National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)