Leviathan of the Atacama

Chile’s Atacama Desert comprises over 100 000 square kilometres of arid, barren terrain. However, for astronomers working at the largest ground-based astronomical project in existence, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), some of the most important measurements occur on the scale of just a few millimetres.

The ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) sits at an altitude of 2900 metres above sea level in the Andes. From here, astronomers, technicians, and engineers can control each of ALMA’s individual 66 antennas, which are located over 2000 metres higher, at 5000 metres elevation, up on the Chajnantor plateau. Getting the antennas up to this plateau presents quite an engineering challenge.

Enter Otto and Lore! These huge orange beasts — one of which is seen here — were specifically designed and built in Germany to carry the 100-tonne antennas from the OSF to Chajnantor (a distance of some 28 kilometres). When they arrive, the leviathan transporters position each antenna with millimetre precision. This incredibly exact positioning is crucial to the array’s scientific operations, and enables ALMA to produce some of the world’s sharpest images of the Universe.

You can see Otto and Lore in action in ESOcast 56: Gentle Giants in the Desert.

 

Credit:

ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

About the Image

Id:potw1839a
Type:Photographic
Release date:24 September 2018, 06:00
Size:35973 x 8641 px

About the Object

Name:ALMA transporters
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory : Telescope
Category:ALMA

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