The world’s most powerful telescope which can produce images 10 times sharper than Nasa’s Hubble is becoming operational in Chile’s Atacama desert.
The Alma telescope, which promises to probe deeper into space than ever before, comprises 50 antennae arranged over a 10km (6.2-mile) radius.
The $1.3bn (£870m) observatory works by combining radiowaves collected by the antennae to construct images of space.
It is the equivalent of a giant telescope with a diameter of 14,000m.
Alma – short for Atacama Large Millimetre Array – has been functioning at limited capacity since 2011, but now 50 of the antennae will finally be working together.
At 5,000m above sea level, the high altitude and clear, cloudless skies of the Atacama desert provide the ideal conditions for observing space.
Giannini Marconi is among those who suffers the inhospitable conditions of the high desert to get a chance to peer into space.
He said: “It’s a milestone because it’s the largest observatory built in the world up until now.”
Thijs de Graauw, the director of Alma, said it would eventually have 66 antennae, but officials are not sure when the whole project will be complete.
He said: “We’re celebrating that we have more than 50 antennae in operation. We took that number because to have all 66 finished could take a little bit longer, because you know the end of the project is very hard to sharply plan and define.”
Alma will allow astronomers to study wavelengths invisible to the human eye.
When functioning at full capacity, the telescope will produce images up to 10 times sharper than Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope.
It will study light from the coldest and darkest corners of the universe, where galaxies are formed and stars are born.
The deserts of Chile and Western Australia are the focus of other giant telescope projects.
:: The Australian SKA Pathfinder (Askap) telescope in the Western Australian desert is made up of 36 antennae, each 12 metres (40ft) in diameter.
Askap is itself a curtain raiser for an even more ambitious project, the Square Kilometre Array (Ska) which will see the Australian telescope linked to similar facilities in South Africa and New Zealand, joining 3,000 dishes by 2019.
:: Chile will also be the home of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) which is the project of the 14-nation strong European Southern Observatory. The UK last week committed £88m towards the £900m funding it needs.
The E-ELT will be the world’s largest ground-based telescope operating in the visible to infrared wavelength range and will have a mirror 39 metres across when complete in 2022
:: The Very Large Telescope array (VLT) was the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy at the beginning of the Millennium.
Located at La Silla Observatory at the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert, it is the world’s most advanced optical instrument, consisting of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors of 8.2m diameter and four movable 1.8m diameter Auxiliary Telescopes.
:: The Hubble Space Telescope, a collaboration between ESA and Nasa, is a long-term, space-based observatory that was launched in 1990. As of July 2011, it had made a million observations.