Two of Taiwan's research institutions have been recognized for their roles in the world's largest astronomical project based in Chile, which was recently launched to discover more details about the birth of stars and the formation of the universe. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia with Chile, was formally launched March 13.
It is a single telescope composed of 66 high precision antennas that are located on the Chajnantor plateau, 5,000 meters above the sea level in the north of the South American country. Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institution and a partner in the project, asked Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology under the Ministry of National Defense to establish a Front End Integration Center (FEIC) and to carry out tests on front end receiver systems at the heart of the ALMA array.
The FEIC in Taiwan was tasked with the testing of 17 units but, after three of them were finished, was asked to test five more in North America since Taiwan was able to demonstrate both quality and punctuality. In 2011, the testing of four receiver systems originally assigned to Europe were handed over to Taiwan, increasing the total number to 26 to be tested by Taiwan. In December 2012, the testing of all 26 units was completed and the systems were shipped to Chile for assembly.
In the end, Taiwan' FEIC, conducted testing on the largest number of receiver systems with top speed and top quality. The performance of the Taiwan team was recognized by ALMA, he added. The ALMA Front End system, designed to receive signals of ten different frequency bands, is the first element in a complex chain of signal receiving, conversion, processing and recording.
Each front end contains a set of extremely sensitive receivers, cooled to temperatures of just four degrees above absolute zero (-269 degrees Celsius), which detect the millimeter- and submillimeter-wavelength light that ALMA "sees.” By detecting light invisible to the human eye, the ALMA can show unprecedented details about the birth of stars, infant galaxies in the early universe and planets coalescing around distant suns. The facility is also able to discover and measure the distribution of molecules which form in the space between the stars.