ALMA Telescope Pushed To Its Limits To Observe A Nebula

Posted: Aug 18 2018, 4:41am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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ALMA Telescope Pushed to its Limit to Observe a Nebula
Composite image of NGC 6334I, a star-forming region in the Cat's Paw Nebula, taken with ALMA's highest-frequency vision. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

The first highest-frequency ALMA observations produced exciting results.

Pushing the limits of ALMA radio telescope in Chile, researchers have peered into Cat's Paw Nebula located about 4,300 light-years from Earth in the direction of southern constellation Scorpius and provided us an unprecedented view of the star-forming complex.

Previous ALMA observations at lower frequencies showed that Cat’s Paw Nebula, also known as NGC 6334I, is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars and is undergoing an intense growth spurt.

On April 5, astronomers harnessed ALMA’s highest-frequency (shortest wavelength) capabilities and took first-of-their-kind ALMA observations with Band 10. ALMA's first Band 10 or highest-frequency gave researchers access to direct observations of jets of water vapor streaming away from one of the massive protostars in the region.

ALMA antennas are sensitive to "band" or range of wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The bands' range starts with band 1 and ends on band 10 with wavelengths from 0.3 to 0.4 millimeters. Recently, ALMA was able to detect the submillimeter-wavelength light emitted by heavy water that would not be visible otherwise.

"Normally, we wouldn't be able to directly see this particular signal at all from the ground," said co-author Crystal Brogan from National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "Earth's atmosphere, even at remarkably arid places, still contains enough water vapor to completely overwhelm this signal from any cosmic source. During exceptionally pristine conditions in the high Atacama Desert, however, ALMA can, in fact, detect that signal. This is something no other telescope on Earth can achieve."

As molecules from heavy water tumble and vibrate in space, they naturally emit light at specific wavelengths. And all of ALMA’s receiver bands can detect these unique spectral fingerprints. However, its Band 10 was able to detect a region that is extraordinarily rich in molecular fingerprints.

“High-frequency radio observations like these are normally not possible from the ground," said leas author Brett McGuire, a chemist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "They require the extreme precision and sensitivity of ALMA, along with some of the driest and most stable atmospheric conditions that can be found on Earth.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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