Chile unveils world's largest astronomical observatory

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera presided over the launch of the world's largest astronomical observatory in the remote Atacama Desert of the northern Chilean Andes.

Home to the world's most powerful telescope, the Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the observatory is the result of a collaboration between Europe, the US, Japan and Chile, according to a press release.

"One of our many natural resources is Chile's spectacular night sky," Xinhua quoted Pinera as saying.

"I believe that science has been a vital contributor to the development of Chile in recent years. I am very proud of our international collaborations in astronomy, of which ALMA is the latest and biggest outcome," said Pinera.

Located 5,000 meters above sea level, the assembly of ALMA's antennas was recently completed and the telescope has already provided "unprecedented views of the cosmos with only a portion of its full array", the observatory said.

ALMA "is able to observe the universe by detecting light that is invisible to the human eye (and) will show us never-before-seen details about the birth of stars, infant galaxies in the early universe, and planets coalescing around distant suns", the observatory added.

ALMA Director Thijs de Graauw said the telescope "dwarfs anything else we had before", adding "we are eager for astronomers to exploit the full power of this amazing tool".

The antennas of the ALMA array, 54 12-meter dish antennas and 12 smaller 7-meter dish antennas, work together as a single telescope. Each collects radiation coming in from space and the data is brought together and processed by a specialized supercomputer.

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