Virtual Tour – Talks

Virtual Tour – Talks

In an ideal scenario, everyone would be able to participate in an in-person visit to ALMA. But traveling to Chile or San Pedro de Atacama is not always possible. That is why we are bringing the world of radio astronomy closer through online talks called “Virtual Tours”, which cover different topics to provide new perspectives on the complex organization behind the most important observatory in the world. Through interviews with members of ALMA, specialists on diverse topics, we explain the details in a way that would otherwise be hard for the general public to understand.

The Virtual Tours are held live through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, where the public has the opportunity to interact with our guests and ask questions. All the recordings are also available on this page.

We invite you to enjoy these live “Virtual Tours” and learn about the fascinating world of astronomy with ALMA through the voices of its protagonists!

The topics discussed until now include some of the following:

  1. Antenna Maintenance
  2. The Correlator and the Receivers
  3. Antenna Transporters
  4. Antenna Control Room
  5. ALMA Neighboring Communities
  6. Image Generation
  7. ALMA Software
  8. Interferometry
  9. The Scheduled Shutdown
  10. Photo Ambassadors
  11. How can you observe with ALMA?

1. Antenna maintenance

Engineers and technicians who are specialists in maintaining the ALMA antennas explain how they program the care of these 66 gigantic machines so they can detect signals from the Universe and receive as many signals as possible for scientific observation. They also explain the logistics between the team of scientists and engineers, and they discuss the extreme weather conditions at the altitude of the Chajnantor Plateau, where the ALMA antennas are located.

“We are in the most fun team of the observatory! where all the action is, where we can assembly the antennas and everything, from the smallest screw to the biggest on the transporter. We are the lucky ones”, thay said.

Guests: Fabiola Cruzat (Antenna Maintenance Supervisor) and Mark Gallilee (Technical Mechanical Lead)

2. The Correlator and the receivers

Astrophysicists, engineers and technicians discuss the operation of the receivers - “the retina” of each ALMA antenna- and the giant computer known as the Correlator, which processes all the observation data. These fundamental instruments are located in the Chajnantor Plateau, at 5,000 meters above sea level at the heights of the Atacama Desert.

“The correlator is a very complex and delicate machine, whose operation allows us to get a very faint signal from the sky. The colder are the antenna receivers, the better will be the extraction of this very weak signal from the general noise”, they stated.

Guests:  Giorgio Siringo (Senior RF Engineer & FE Technical Lead) and Lorenzo Martinez (Electronics Engineer I)

3. Antenna Transporters

The machines that transport the antennas -fundamental in changing the settings of the array based on the astronomic schedule- are the stars of this episode. To understand the complex operations of each of their parts, engineers and technicians teach us about this wonder of engineering.

“They are huge machines, 10 meters wide and 20 meters long, would be about 5 times wider than your average car, 5 times longer as well”, they said.

Guests: Mark Gallilee (Technical Mechanical Lead) and Massimiliano Marchesi (Antenna Maintenance Group Manager)

4. Antenna control room

Two rooms with multiple screens located at the base camp and in Santiago are used to operate the antennas and make scientific observations. ALMA astronomers and antenna operators invite us to learn how the different monitors operate and share their experiences during both day and night shifts.

“There are many instruments that must be monitored in some way to ensure that the quality of the observation is optimal”, they stated.

Guests: Ludwig Von Dossow (Antenna Array Operator) and Sergio Martin (Operations Performance Group Manager)

5. ALMA neighboring communities

We meet with the Public Relations Officer to learn about the work that ALMA does with the neighboring communities in northern Chile, in educational and cultural aspects and in funding projects.

"We support our neighbors with different initiatives that range from the economic -such as the ALMA II region funds, ALMA-CONICYT, educational programs such as ECBI-, to inclusion issues, and cultural initiatives", says Danilo Vidal.

Guest: Danilo Vidal (Public Relations Officer)

6. Image generation

In this virtual tour, our astronomers explain how data is gathered from the Universe, how it is processed to be received by the main researcher or “owner” of the observation time, and how images are generated from this data.

Guests: Drew Brisbin and Laura Gomez (both Science Content Archive Managers).

7. ALMA Software

The delicate tool tailored for the observatory: the ALMA Common Software (ACS) is reviewed in detail in this chapter: its operation and how it connects with ALMA’s engineering and science departments to ensure that the complex computer elements of the observatory are functioning appropriately.

"The observatory itself is a data factory, where on the one hand we have clients (astronomers) who request observations of a celestial body and we store that information", said Software team members.

Guests: Camilo Saldías and María Jesús López (both Front-line software Support Engineers), and Tomás Staig (Software Development Lead)

8. Interferometry

The Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI), the same technique used to make the famous image of the m87 black hole, is the focus of this virtual tour. It is a technique similar to that is used by ALMA, but connects 11 telescopes around the world, allowing a thousand times better resolution to probe deeper into the structure of astronomical objects that are bright in radio waves.

“The level of satisfaction is maximum because we are helping to advance science, to increase the knowledge of humanity, and we hope that those who connect to these talks can get that feeling. ALMA is a spectacular observatory”, says one of the participating astronomers.

Our guests today: Geoff Crew, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration and MIT Haystack Observatory, is the architect of the software used to make this possible at ALMA; ALMA's VLBI Observations Coordinator, Hugo Messias, and Deputy VLBI Observations Coordinator, David Rebolledo

9. The Scheduled Shutdown

Every year during part of February the observations are shutdown to carry out maintenance of the observatory from the engineering point of view. That date is chosen because it is usually the Altiplano winter season, which also affects astronomical observations.

“It is the major equipment maintenance plan that is carried out every year, it is scheduled in February in the middle of the Altiplano winter, when the weather conditions are very adverse,” Marcelo Jara tells us.

Guests: Iván López (Safety Manager) and Claudio Aranda (Deputy Supervisor of the Infrastructure Maintenance Group)

10. Photo Ambassadors

Who better than the ALMA collaborator himself to capture the perfect image of a unique moment in the observatory or of the starry sky. That is why we have photographic ambassadors at ALMA, team members who love photography and express it in their images.

“The most important thing for astrophotography is planning, because with cold, hunger and low light one cannot think well. You have to be clear with what parameters you are going to set the camera and only get to execute”, says Sergio Otarola, especially when it comes to obtaining an image at a high geographical altitude.

Guests: Pablo Bello and Pablo Carrillo, both members of the Array Maintenance Group.

11. How can you observe with ALMA?

Scientists from all over the world use ALMA. 10% of observation time is allocated to the host country, Chile, and 90% for the partners, according to their financial contribution to ALMA. All partners contribute observing time toward “Open Skies” such that any astronomer, regardless of their affiliation, can apply for observing time by participating in the annual call for proposals.

“Based on the ranking that each proposal has, on the time it is requesting to observe with ALMA, when it is requesting it and, on the time available by the observatory, the proposals can be awarded an A grade, which is 33% of the total time, B that 67% and finally C to fill in as the third priority”, explains astronomer David Rebolledo.

Guests: Andrea Corvillon (Proposal Handing Team Leader) and David Rebolledo (Science Operations Astronomer)