Solar pillar over ALMA (photo)

The presented image was obtained on the Chilean Chajnantor plateau. It shows the sunset sky over one of the antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) radio telescope complex.

Sunset sky over one of the antennas of the ALMA complex. Source: C. Duran / ESO

The Chajnantor plateau is located at an altitude of over five thousand meters above sea level in the Atacama Desert and is one of the best places on the planet to host astronomical instruments capable of observing in the infrared and submillimeter range. The air at this mark is incredibly dry, which significantly reduces the effect of absorption of radiation at these wavelengths by water vapor contained in the atmosphere. And the distance from civilization reduces the risk of accidental electromagnetic interference on the receivers of astronomers.

The presented image was taken during sunset. It shows clouds that are very rare for this region, painted in different shades of red and blue. You can also see a solar pillar. This optical phenomenon occurs due to the presence of ice crystals in the atmosphere.

The antenna captured in the photo is part of the ALMA complex. In total, it consists of 66 antennas. 54 of them have a diameter of 12 meters, another 12 have a diameter of 7 meters. They are not stationary and can be installed on different sites located at a distance of up to 16 km from each other. Two 20-meter tractors are used to transport them along the Chajnantor plateau.

All 66 ALMA antennas are combined into a single radio interferometer, which is currently the most powerful ever built. The observatory is one of the most important tools of modern astronomy. It is used to study nebulae, regions of active star formation, search for newborn exoplanets, and also took part in obtaining a historical image of the shadow of a black hole.

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