On Wednesday, October 10, ALMA’s high-power telescopes in the north of Chile revealed a never-before-seen phenomenon roughly 1,500 light-years away from Earth: A distinctive and surprising spiral formation has been found surrounding a dying giant red star. In addition, “R Sculptoris,” as this star has been named, emitted far more gas and material than expected by scientists. These new observations and three-dimensional data could help us understand our own solar system and how it will unravel billions of years from now.
ALMA, still under construction, will be the world’s most powerful telescope aided by the data collected by 66 gigantic antennae located in the San Pedro de Atacama Desert, 5000 meters above sea level. It is run by an international team of scientists and has some of the most favorable conditions for astronomical observation on the planet. While new discoveries were anticipated, the fact that they have begun so soon and even before its official inauguration in 2013 is very promising for ALMA’s future.
Even to the bare eye, the night sky is overwhelmingly clear and bright in this part of Chile, but guests of the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa enjoy access to the Hotel’s own high-powered telescope to scan the heavens above. www.altoatacama.com