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Gallery: First photos from space by new ALMA telescope

The powerful Earth-based telescope is still under construction, but has begun capturing powerful images of newborn stars – and the stuff they’re made of.

Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

THE WORLD’S MOST complex Earth-based astronomy observatory has begun capturing and releasing images of newborn stars, despite still being under construction.

The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) captures space imagery which cannot be seen by visible light or infrared telescopes.

Based in northern Chile, around a third of ALMA’s planned 66 radio antennas are in operation. The wavelengths of light ALMA works on are around 1,000 times longer than visible light wavelengths, facilitating the study of extremely cold objects such as the dense clouds and gases which form stars and planets.

Describing the telescope’s technique in capturing images of new stars, the European Southern Observatory says:

While visible light reveals the newborn stars in the galaxies, ALMA’s view shows us something that cannot be seen at those wavelengths: the clouds of dense cold gas from which new stars form. The ALMA observations…were made at specific wavelengths of millimetre and submillimetre light (ALMA bands 3 and 7), tuned to detect carbon monoxide molecules in the otherwise invisible hydrogen clouds, where new stars are forming.

The ESO says that NASA’s Hubble telescope is the “ultimate benchmark” in terms of high resolution images from space. However, ALMA will capture images with a resolution up to ten times sharper than Hubble’s once it is fully functional.

The ALMA project involves the partnership of Europe, North America, East Asia and Chile.

Gallery: Check out some of the first images captured by ALMA:

Gallery: First photos from space by new ALMA telescope
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  • ALMA

    Another view of the Antennae Galaxies combining three different wavelength ranges captured by ALMA and visible light observations by Hubble. (Image: B Saxton, (NRAO/AUI/NSF), ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)
  • ALMA

    A side-by-side comparison of distorted colliding spiral galaxies about 70 million light years from Earth in the Corvus constellation. Compares images made in two different wavelength ranges by ALMA (left) with visible-light observations from the ESO's Very Large Telescope. (Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: ESO/Alberto Milani)
  • ALMA

    The Antennae Galaxies about 70 million light years away in the Corvus constellation. Image combines ALMA observations and visible light observations from Hubble. (Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)
  • ALMA

    A chart showing the location (marked by a red circle) of the Antennae Galaxies. The chart marks stars which can be seen by the unaided eye from a dark site. (Image: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope)
  • ALMA

    A wide-field image of the sky around the Antennae Galaxies. (Image: ESA/Hubble and Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgements: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble))
  • ALMA

    ALMA in operation in the Chajnantor Plateau in northern Chile. (Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA))

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