ASTROPHYSICS | Space instruments & demonstrators

ASTROPHYSICS | Space instruments & demonstrators

ASTROPHYSICS | Space instruments & demonstrators

ASTROPHYSICS | Space instruments & demonstrators

Artist Impression of ALMA telescopes on the high site
ALMA high site: the Chajnantur plateau before construction
The ALMA Band 9 reciever
Glycolaldehyde, a simple form of sugar, in the gas surrounding a young Sun-like star
The ALMA Band 5 reciever

ALMA is the largest ground-based observatory in the millimeter and submillimeter regime and one of the largest astronomical facilities in the world. The interferometer's 66 telescopes with diameters of 7 and 12 meters, are located at 5000 meters altitude in northern Chile on the Chajnantur plateau. ALMA is a collaboration between Europe, the US, Japan and Chile.

ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) enables research into the physics of the 'cold universe', such as the study of the formation of planets and the first stars and galaxies.


ALMA is a premier tool for studying the first stars and galaxies that emerged from the cosmic "dark ages" billions of years ago. The light from these objects at great cosmic distances, is stretched out to millimeter and sub millimeter wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe.

In the more nearby Universe, ALMA provides an unprecedented ability to study the processes of star and planet formation. Unimpeded by the dust that obscures visible-light observations, ALMA is able to reveal the details of young, still-forming stars, and shows young planets still in the process of developing.

In addition, ALMA allows scientists to learn in detail about the complex chemistry of the giant clouds of gas and dust that spawn stars and planetary systems.


The construction of ALMA was completed in 2013, but the first scientific observations were already done in 2011. Each of ALMA's 66 telescopes is equipped with 10 different frequency band recievers for observations, ranging from 84 GHz to about 950 GHz, corresponding to 3.6 - 0.3 mm wavelength. Most recievers are based on SIS heterodyne mixers, enabling high resolution spectroscopic observations.

The NOVA-ALMA group at SRON Groningen was contracted for the development and realization of 66 plus 7 spare Band 9 recievers in 2003 and for the same amount of Band 5 recievers in 2012.

The Band 9 recievers observe in the high frequencies, from 602 - 720 GHz, corresponding to 0.42 - 0.50 mm wavelength. The high altitude location of ALMA was mainly selected for these very high frequency band recievers, that enable high spectral resolution, since higher spectral resolution is obtained with shorter wavelengths.

The Band 5 receivers observe the universe in the 163-211 GHz frequencies, corresponding to wavelengths of 1.42-1.84 mm. This is the only frequency band or wavelength band in which water can be detected from the ground, behind Earth’s atmosphere. Band 5 therefore increases the capabilities of the ALMA telescope to search the cosmos for water and the conditions needed for life.

Sixty percent of the Band 5 recievers has been installed on ALMA in 2017. The NOVA-ALMA group will complete the Band 5 project by the end of 2017.

The receivers use detector technology that was developed for SRON's molecule detecting instrument HIFI, onboard the Herschel space telescope (ESA).