03/10/2011 06:31 BST | Updated 02/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Alma: Our Most Complex Telescope Yet (PHOTOS) (VIDEO)

New undiscovered objects, the birth of stars and more distant galaxies are just a few of the amazing never-before-seen discoveries that Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (Alma), the most complex and powerful radio telescope array ever built, will detect. Even in its incomplete state, Alma is already more powerful than any telescope on earth.

Positioned at an altitude of 3,000metres on the Chilean Chajnantor plateau, Alma uses an array of 50 radio telescopes, each twelve metres-wide, spanning a site 16 km wide.

The construction of Alma commenced in 2003 and will be complete in 2013 at a cost of US $1.3billion, and is a partnership of 20 countries which began planning the project 30 years ago.

The first image released by Alma (below) shows part of the Universe that cannot be seen at all by optical and infra-red telescopes because the dust surrounding star formation blocks optical light. That means Alma will be able to observe the darkest, coldest and most distant areas of the cosmos to make new discoveries in never-before-seen galactic neighbourhoods.

One hundred projects have already been accepted by Alma, including a study of the Sagittarius A* black hole at the centre of our galaxy. That black hole has swallowed 4 million suns in its lifespan. Gas and dust between the black hole and earth have previously hidden it from view, only now will scientists be able to investigate its make-up.

Loading player...