Equipment that is vital to the international ALMA project destined to revolutionize knowledge of the Universe is due to be shipped to Chile from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire this week (on Wednesday, 25 March).

The first of the vital receiver systems which have been assembled and tested at the European Front-End Integration Centre (FEIC) located at RAL, will become part of the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) project in the Atacama Desert in Chile. ALMA is a huge set-up of sixty six individual antennas, of 12- and 7- meter diameter, that when electronically combined simulate a telescope diameter of up to 15 km — more than a thousand times the size of a single antenna! The telescope operates in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelength window, which is invisible to the human eye and lies between the infrared and radio regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Its vast size will allow astronomers to detect signals within and outside of our galaxy with greater clarity than has previously been possible. ALMA will be used to detect and study the earliest and most distant galaxies and will also probe deep into dust-obscured regions where visible-light observations cannot be made and allow us to investigate the birthplace of stars and planets.

The receiver, which will be the first to be added to the array from Europe (the very first was sent from the USA last year), is a vital component that detects the extremely faint signals from space. This is the first of 26 units to be sent to Chile from the FEIC over a three year period. RAL was awarded the contract from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in late 2007, because of its substantial heritage and expertise in the field of millimeter and submillimeter wave technology, and its large-scale facilities that are ideally suited to the FEIC infrastructure requirements.

Professor Brian Ellison, ALMA UK Project Manager, based at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) said: “This is a major milestone for the ALMA project and in particular with respect to its European contribution. Expert teams in Europe, North America and East Asia have combined their skills to produce cutting edge technology for ALMA. I am delighted that the UK, in addition to its many other technical and scientific contributions to the array, is playing such a vital and successful role in the provision of the core receiver technology”.

Wolfgang Wild, ALMA Project Manager at ESO, says: “We are very happy to provide the first European receiver to the observatory in Chile. These receivers contain the finest state-of-the-art technology from Europe, North America and East Asia”.

Gie Han Tan from ESO, manager responsible for all European ALMA Front End activities, says: “This delivery involves the most advanced submillimeter receiver currently available in the world. I’m proud to have been working towards this important milestone with colleagues from all ALMA partners and within ESO. It is the result of many years of development, very hard work and commitment of all contributors”.

Notes to editors:

The receiver is made up of a multitude of components that are provided by ALMA partners in Europe and North America (e.g. a low temperature cooling system, photonic mixers superconducting detectors and support electronics) which when combined, create a multi-band receiver weighing more than three quarters of a ton. In addition to RAL, which has provided the cooling system ( and photomixers (, subassemblies have been provided by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA, (; Herzberg institute of Astrophysics, Canada, (; Nederlandse Onderzoekschool voor Astronomie ( and the Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimetrique, France (

Images available: Please contact the press office for more details.


Lucy Stone
Press Officer
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel Number: +44 (0)1235 445627

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

ESO carries out an ambitious program focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO plays also a leading role in promoting and organizing cooperation in astronomical research.

ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in the Atacama Desert region of Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

– The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
– The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
– The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory. The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research. Between 2008 and 2009 we will invest approximately #787 million.