Cool view of the universe

The ESO has awarded the Science and Technology Facilities Council a contract worth £7.71m to build cooling systems for the world’s largest and radio telescope array


The ESO has awarded the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) a contract worth £7.71m to build cooling systems for the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope array.



Under the contract, the UK scientists and engineers will build 45 ultra low temperature cooling systems for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, currently under construction at the high-altitude Llano de Chajnantor site in Chile’s Atacama desert. The project has been commissioned by ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.



ALMA will study the night sky in great detail at sub-millimetre wavelengths, observing the birth of stars and detecting the earliest galaxies created at the Big Bang.



Once completed, the cooling systems – cryostats – will be installed on each of the array antennas and will cool the detector electronics to a low temperature of 4 Kelvin (-268oC) which in turn allows the telescope’s detection system to operate.



Each of the antennas, weighing about 120 tonnes, has a dish measuring about 12m across which is surface engineered to be accurate to within 20 microns.



Prof Brian Ellison, ALMA UK project manager, at Oxfordshire-based STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) said, ‘The 45 cryostats will take four years to complete and will include support from European industry and will underpin the operation of the highly sensitive ALMA detectors.’



Dr Anna Orlowska, programme manager for the cryostat activity at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: ‘RAL has considerable expertise in the development of novel cryogenic systems and we are really pleased to be able to support ESO with the creation of the world class ALMA facility. Each cryostat will enable the detector electronics to operate at optimum performance to ensure that ALMA captures the most significant features of the Universe.’