Helping to Discover the Secrets of The Universe:

The ALMA Interferometer Telescope In Chile


The ALMA Interferometer Telescope

The ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) radio astronomy facility in Chile is one of the most ambitious radio observatories on Earth, and is paving the way for a deeper understanding of the Universe.

AAC Omnisys are long term partners with ALMA. The 16-year partnership is the result of a contract award by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) for being the main supplier of Water Vapour Radiometers (58 in total), for the antennas at the ALMA telescope, which ESO operates jointly with international partners in Chile.

Water Vapour Radiometer

AAC Omnisys designed 58 custom Water Vapour Radiometers (WVP), operating at 183 GHz, used to estimate the propagation delay due to variations in water vapour in the line of sight of the telescope antennas.

Find out more about our Water Vapour Radiometers for ALMA

The 66 antennas at ALMA work together as though they are a single, very large antenna. Using a technique known as interferometry, multiple antennas simultaneously pick up a signal from the Universe. Using a fiercely powerful supercomputer, this data is then combined to obtain extremely high-precision images. In order to work, ALMA depends on a perfect synchronization between its 66 antennas and its electronics, with a precision down to a millionth of a millionth of a second.

ALMA is making extremely important contributions in a variety of scientific specialties. From the study of the first stars and galaxies (ALMA’s Deep Field) that emerged from the cosmic “dark ages”, billions of years ago, to revealing the details of young, still-forming stars and the young planets in the process of development. ALMA is allowing scientists to carry out research on the complex chemistry of the giant cosmic clouds of gas and dust that spawn stars and planetary systems.

For over 10 years AAC Omnisys has supported the operation of the telescope, receiving excellent feedback on the performance, reliability, and ease of operation of the custom-built radiometers.

In November 2023, the AAC Omnisys team visited the ALMA team in Chile for a week on-site training to support the 5-year maintenance contract with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on the WVR. It consisted of upgrading the maintenance software as well as training the JAO staff for maintenance operations, replacement, and calibration on sub-systems of the water vapour radiometer.

The Water Vapour Radiometers for the ALMA telescope are an example of the breadth of applications of atmospheric microwave observation techniques, a core expertise of AAC Omnisys. This technical competence gives the AAC Clyde Space group the capability to supply advanced solutions for atmospheric monitoring and weather prediction, both from ground-based systems and from satellites. At a time or increased challenges related to our ever-changing climate, the experience gained by AAC Omnisys in the ALMA project, is enabling the company and the wider AAC Clyde Space group to design and build increasingly more sophisticated instruments and space missions to help meteorologists around the world predict weather more accurately. And the same time, the team in Gothenburg continues to support the astronomy scientific community by helping to ensure that the ALMA telescope can continue its very successful mission!