ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is the most complex and ambitious astronomical observatory ever completed. And it is officially completed. Last week the telescope array was inaugurated at an official ceremony; all the major systems of the telescope are now operational. ALMA is an important instrument for astronomers because it allows us to see in the submillimeter wavelength band where stars formation in distant galaxies are evident. In addition to seeing distant galaxies dusty obscured regions of space can be explored with this instrument. In order to get such a fantastic view of the universe astronomers have had to build the telescope array at an elevation of 5000 meters (16,400 feet) in the dry Atacama desert because the atmosphere would otherwise (particularly water vapor) block the light at the these wavelengths. There have been many engineering and management hurdles in the completion of ALMA so the success of the project deserves recognition. ALMA is an expensive partnership between Chile, Europe, North America, and East Asia that represents what is hopefully the beginning of many more massive multinational collaborative astronomical observatories. The European Southern Observatory who does a lot of the primary management of the observatory also does a lot of great work generating public outreach. They have produced this video which presents the history of ALMA from the origins of the project decades ago to the recent first science results.
Alma means soul in Spanish. A beautiful name for the observatory that looks so serene as it gazes up at the Milky Way discovering our cosmic origins.