On 10 March, an official ceremony took place on the 2,900m high site   of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Operations   Support Facility, from where the ALMA antennas will be remotely   controlled. The ceremony marked the completion of the structural   works, while the building itself will be finished by the end of the   year. This will become the operational centre of one of the most   important ground-based astronomical facilities on Earth.

The ceremony, known as ‘Tijerales’ in Chile, is the equivalent to the   ‘roof-topping ceremony’ that takes place worldwide, in one form or   another, to celebrate reaching the highest level of a construction.   It this case, the construction is the unique ALMA Operations Support   Facility (OSF), located near the town of San Pedro de Atacama.

“The end of this first stage represents an historic moment for ALMA,”   said Hans Rykaczewski, the European ALMA Project Manager. “Once   completed in December 2007, this monumental building of 7,000 square   metres will be one of the largest and most important astronomical   operation centres in the world.”

ALMA, located at an elevation of 5,000m in the Atacama Desert of   northern Chile, will provide astronomers with the world’s most   advanced tool for exploring the Universe at millimetre and   submillimetre wavelengths. ALMA will detect fainter objects and be   able to produce much higher-quality images at these wavelengths than   any previous telescope system.

The OSF buildings are designed to suit the requirements of this   exceptional observatory in a remote, desert location. The facility,   which will host about 100 people during operations, consists of three   main buildings: the technical building, hosting the control centre of   the observatory, the antenna assembly building, including four   antenna foundations for testing and maintenance purposes, and the   warehouse building, including mechanical workshops. Further secondary   buildings are the transporter shelters and the vehicle maintenance   facilities as well as the ALMA gate house. The construction started   in August 2006 and will be completed in December 2007.

The ceremony took place in the presence of representatives of the   regional authorities, members of the Chilean Parliament, and   representatives of the local community, including the mayor of San   Pedro, Ms. Sandra Berna, who joined more than 40 representatives of   ESO, NRAO and NAOJ – the organisations that are, together, building   ALMA.

“This is certainly a big step in the realisation of the ALMA Project.   The completion of this facility will be essential for assembly,   testing and adjustment as well as operation and maintenance of all   ALMA antennas from Europe, North America and from Japan,” said   Ryusuke Ogasawara, the representative of NAOJ in Chile.

“This is a tremendous achievement and represents a major milestone   for the ALMA project,” said Adrian Russell, North American Project   Manager for ALMA.

The first ALMA antennas, the prototypes of which successfully   achieved their first combined astronomical observation last week, are   expected to arrive at the ALMA site in a few months. These huge   antennas will travel in pieces from Europe, USA and Japan and will be   assembled next to the OSF building.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an   international astronomy facility, is a partnership among Europe,   Japan and North America, in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.   ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organisation for   Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, in Japan by the   National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) in cooperation with   the Academia Sinica in Taiwan and in North America by the U.S.   National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National   Research Council of Canada (NRC). ALMA construction and operations   are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of Japan by the   National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and on behalf of   North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO),   which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI).

High resolution images are available at