Thu, Jun 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Taiwan investing in world's largest observatory in Chile


Taiwan and Japan recently announced that they would jointly participate in the construction of the world's largest astronomical observatory, which is being built in Chile.

Taiwanese and Japanese astronomers made the joint announcement last Friday at the Academia Sinica, the country's highest research institution.

Under the agreement, Taiwan would join Japan -- which is already a partner in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) -- by contributing to the cost of the construction.

"Taiwan will contribute US$16 million to the ALMA-Japan project. In return, Taiwanese researchers will have full access to ALMA, as will scientists in Japan," said He Tseng-pu (賀曾樸), director of Academia Sinica's Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

ALMA is an international collaboration to develop a world-class telescope array to study the universe from a site in Chile's Andes mountains.

ALMA is being built in the Atacama Desert at an altitude of 5,000m above sea level. It will be an array of 64 radio antennas that will work together as one telescope to study millimeter and submillimeter wavelength light from space.

These wavelengths, which cross the critical boundary between infrared and microwave radiation, hold the key to understanding such processes as the formation of planets and stars, the earliest and most distant galaxies, as well as of organic and other molecules in space.

An international partnership between North America and Europe funds and operates ALMA, which is scheduled to be completed by 2011.

Partners in ALMA include the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Sweden, Chile, Japan and Taiwan.

In a press release on Tuesday, the Academia Sinica said its participation in establishing ALMA has opened a window allowing Taiwan into the world of advanced astronomical research.

Academia Sinica had in the past collaborated with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in building the Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii.

The SMA -- with eight 6m antennas at 4,080m above sea level -- was the first of its kind in the world.

Comparing the strength of the SMA and the ALMA, a researcher at the Academia Sinica offered the following analogy: With the SMA, an observer on Taipei 101 can "see" a cockroach at CKS International Airport, while with the ALMA, an observer can "tell" what kind of cockroach it is from the same distance.

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