New research centre for studying planet and star formation
The ALMA Local Expertise Group (Allegro) is located in the Leiden Observatory (Sterrewacht). Professor Ewine van Dishoeck: ‘The Netherlands has played an important role in establishing ALMA. Thanks to this subsidy, we can now reap the scientific benefits.'
ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array) is a unique astronomy collaboration on a worldwide scale, worth 1 billion euro, which is currently under construction in the Chilean Andes at a height of 5,000 metres. This observatory, comprising 66 telescopes, is due to be fully operational in 2012, and will study the universe in a frequency area which is invisible to the human eye: the millimetre and submillimetre region. Using this 'colour' light, astronomers can make observations in dark gas clouds where stars like our sun and planets like the earth are formed. ALMA can also explore the formation of star systems and their development into phenomena such as our Milky Way.
During an official visit to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, Dr Louis Vertegaal, Director of Science and Chemical Sciences at NWO, announced that the Allegro expertise group would be located in the Netherlands, in the Leiden Observatory. This decision involves an annual sum of 0.5 million euros.
Allegro will primarily be supporting observations in the highest frequency band. ALMA is a consortium set up by NOVA (Netherlands Research School for Astronomy), SRON and the Technical University Delft. Vertegaal explains: 'It is the mission of NWO to facilitate top research in the Netherlands. Astronomy is one of the science areas in the country which can be counted among the world's top. NWO's intention with dedicated investments such as these is to develop this excellence even further.'
Van Dishoeck is delighted with this decision: ‘ALMA is a very complex instrument, and setting up an expertise group for the data analysis will enable Dutch astronomy to make optimum use of it. The Netherlands has played a significant role in the development of ALMA. Thanks to this subsidy, we can now also reap the scientific benefits.'
The new research centre will be located in the Leiden Observatory and the work there will be co-ordinated by Dr Michiel Hogerheijde. ‘Astronomers in the Allegro group can work on interpreting the observations made using ALMA and can employ the newest techniques. Locating Allegro in the Leiden Observatory means that Leiden will become the home of ALMA in the Netherlands.'
(24 March 2009)