Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe with ALMA Sabrina Stierwalt, University of Virginia
In this talk I will give a broad overview of the most technologically advanced telescope in the world, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Chilean desert. ALMA is an extraordinary example of how we can use technology to unlock the mysteries of the universe through international collaboration. ALMA is revealing the cosmos to us in unprecedented detail by using the trick of interferometry, or correlating signals from many smaller telescopes together to act as one, large telescope. ALMA can image the sky at even finer resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope, a significant feat considering resolution is harder to achieve at the longer wavelengths where ALMA observes. ALMA can see details down to 6 milliarcseconds across. That’s the equivalent of being able to see a tractor trailer on the Moon or make out the details on a penny sitting on top of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia from a viewpoint in Washington DC. Correlating all those signals also requires one of the largest supercomputers in existence. ALMA uses a 17-petaflop correlator: that means 17 quadrillion (17 followed by 15 zeroes) calculations per second. With ALMA astronomers have made the first detection of a supermassive black hole feeding on the gas and dust around it, have found evidence that planets can migrate in their orbits moving farther away from their stars, and have discovered the most luminous galaxy in the universe, a galaxy so chaotic that it is in the process of ripping itself apart. All of these discoveries, and the day-to-day operations of ALMA, are only possible through international collaboration.