The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile started work on 3 October, featuring a laser developed by NKT Photonics and Teraxion.
Located at 16,500ft altitude in the Chilean Andes in the Antofagasta region’s Atacama desert, by 2013 ALMA will have 66 parabolic antennas, each 12-metres wide. But it is only one third complete now. When it is studying the stars it will be using an NKT Koheras Boostik fibre laser that is part of the Teraxion frequency-stabilised laser system, which is the ALMA master clock laser. To measure the phase of the signals accurately over the multi-antenna array, each antenna must receive a highly stable local oscillator reference signal. The master clock laser has a role in this. Built to ensure it could cope with harsh environmental conditions, the laser was not damaged during the Antofagasta region’s 20 June 2011 earthquake that ranked 6.5 on the Richter scale.
Ghislain Lafrance, Teraxion vice-president of business development, said: 'Our expertise in frequency-stabilised lasers and the special characteristics of the Koheras Fiber Laser allowed us to achieve, in a collaborative way with NKT, a crucial part of one of the most important astronomical projects of all time.’
ALMA is a partnership between Europe, Japan and North America in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. It is funded by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), by Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Taiwan’s National Science Council and Academia Sinica and by the US National Science Foundation and National Research Council of Canada.