The Atacama Large Millimeter Array - And Fred Hoyle
The largest ground-based "telescope" has been officially opened for observation this week. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array is a $1.3 billion project built at an elevation of over three miles in Chile's Atacama desert.
(The Atacama Large Millimeter Array)
At a command from President Sebastian Pinera, the 66 house sized antennae that comprise the Advanced Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the world's most powerful radio telescope, turned toward the sky on the Chajnantor plateau 5,000 metres up in the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth.
“Today Chile has become the capital of world astronomy,” President Pinera said, speaking from the base station 2,000 metres below the plateau. “Chile is a small country but in astronomy we want to become a real giant.”
Fans of science fiction writer (and Cambridge astronomer and mathematician) Sir Fred Hoyle and his co-author Geoffrey Hoyle are enjoying this moment:
Tim de Zeeuw, director general of ESO, told an audience of ministers, diplomats and scientists at the launch that the telescope had been imagined by Sir Fred Hoyle, the English astronomer and mathematician, in his novel, The Inferno, published in 1973.
In the novel, a plan for a new type of radio telescope detecting smaller wavelengths than were considered useful at the time to study the molecular composition of gases is proposed and its suggested location in Australia rejected in favour of the desert mountains of Chile. “That was written 40 years ago. I thought that was quite amazing, especially on a day like today,” said Dr de Zeeuw.
From the novel:
"...They've got problems down on the plain, they've got problems up here on the mountain, and they've got design problems as well. Scientifically it would all make a lot more sense in Chile."