February 2009 — High and dry — the ALMA site
High on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert, ESO is building state-of-the-art telescopes to study light from some of the coldest objects in the Universe. Together with its international partners, ESO is constructing ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/ submillimeter Array. The ALMA site is some 50 km east of San Pedro de Atacama. Here, astronomers find unsurpassed conditions for observing, but they must operate a frontier observatory under very difficult conditions. Chajnantor is at 5000 metres altitude — more than 750 metres higher than the observatories on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and 2300 metres higher than the Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal. Construction of ALMA started in 2003 and will be completed around 2012.
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