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ALMA at Full Stretch Yields Spectacular Images

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Posted April 9, 2015

Images of unequalled sharpness that show the almost perfect gravitational Einstein ring of a distant galaxy and the surface of the asteroid Juno have recently been captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). These stunning pictures were taken at the end of 2014 as part of ALMA’s Long Baseline Campaign, which has successfully tested and verified the telescope’s ability to see the finest details. This is achieved when the antennas are at their greatest separation: up to 15 kilometres apart.

The bright orange central region of the ring (ALMA's highest-resolution observation ever) reveals the glowing dust in this distant galaxy. The surrounding lower-resolution portions of the ring trace the millimetre-wavelength light emitted by carbon dioxide and water molecules. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); B. Saxton NRAO/AUI/NSF

The bright orange central region of the ring (ALMA’s highest-resolution observation ever) reveals the glowing dust in this distant galaxy. The surrounding lower-resolution portions of the ring trace the millimetre-wavelength light emitted by carbon dioxide and water molecules. Credit:
ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); B. Saxton NRAO/AUI/NSF

Five targets were selected for study during the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign. They included the protoplanetary disc HL Tauri, the gravitationally lensed galaxy SDP.81, asteroid Juno, the star Mira, and the quasar 3C138. The Astrophysical Journal Letters has published four scientific papers written by representatives of the entire international team of the ALMA Partnership, detailing these observations.

SDP.81 is an active star-forming galaxy nearly seen at a time when the Universe was only 15 percent of its current age. It is being lensed by a massive foreground galaxy that is a comparatively close four billion light-years away. The gravitational lensing has created an almost perfect Einstein ring. ALMA’s resolution with long baselines on this target exceeds that of all other telescopes that have observed it, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and reveals much fine structure in the ring that has never been seen before.

The second target was much closer to home. A series of images made with ALMA provided an unprecedented view of the surface of Juno, one of the largest members of the Solar System’s main asteroid belt. Linked together into a brief animation, these high-resolution images show the rotation of the asteroid as it shines in millimetre-wavelength light.

The complete sequence of ALMA observations was conducted over the course of four hours, when Juno was approximately 295 million kilometres from Earth. The resolution of the new ALMA observations is a vast improvement over earlier observations made at similar wavelengths and is enough to clearly resolve the irregular shape of the asteroid and potentially tease out prominent surface features.

The five objects were chosen to show the scientific potential of ALMA, the world’s largest ground-based observatory, in its most extended configuration.

Source: ESO

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