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World's 'Most Complex' Telescope Captures Galaxies Colliding!

Technology likened to 'pyramids of the 21st century.'"

ALMA's first image: a pair of spiraling galaxies in the Corvus constellation collide. (Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier)

Releasing its first image, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) -- hailed as the most complex telescope ever built -- catches two galaxies 70 million light-years away colliding.

Situated in the Chilean Andes, ALMA is currently an array of 19 telescopes. According to Space.com, the $1.3 billion radio telescope will have 66 individual telescopes in all by 2013. Right now, the telescope is in the "Early Science" phase. Space.com has more:

These individual antennas each pick up light in the millimeter/submillimeter range — about 1,000 times longer than visible-light wavelengths.

Observing in these long wavelengths will allow ALMA to detect extremely cold objects, such as the gas clouds from which stars and planets form, researchers said. The observatory should also be able to peer at very distant objects, opening a window in the early universe.

The individual telescopes in the ALMA array are spread out over considerable distances, but they'll work as a team. A supercomputer working at 17 quadrillion operations per second will assemble each antenna's observations, forming one large view.

A specific project, according to BBC, will be observation of AU Microscopii, a star that is 1 percent the age of our sun. It is believed that "birth ring" matter surrounds it, which could be observed as forming planets.

ALMA began construction in 2003 in collaboration between many institutions, already has 900 applications for science to be conducted during the early stage. It can accommodate 100 of these projects in the next nine months. According to BBC, each agency is contributing its own antennas to the site, which are slightly different:

Each agency, in friendly rivalry, claims that their design of antenna works best. But although the European, Japanese and North American systems each look subtley different, they do exactly the same job.

Watch Space.com's report:

BBC reports one of Alma's scientific operations astronomers, Dr Diego Garcia, believes this telescope is bringing about a new era of astronomy, and Pascal Martinez, who oversees the antenna assembly likens the project as the "pyramids of the 21st century":

"The sheer scale of the engineering project, its technical complexity and what this hardware will achieve in terms of our understanding is really at the cutting edge and a tribute to humanity."
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