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Cerro Toco
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Position: latitude: -22.958909° longitude: -67.771617°
This site is at an elevation of 5200 m on the side of Cerro Toco in Northern Chile. It is 35 km east of San Pedro de Atacama.

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RE: Atacama Cosmology Telescope
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This is a satellite photograph of Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth: it only sees rain two to four times a century.


Expand (1421kb, 2241 x 2241)
Credits: ESA

The picture was taken by the European Space Agency's Envisat Earth observation satellite, using its Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS). There are even some spots in the desert where rainfall has never been recorded.

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The Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) is currently under construction on Cerro Toco in Chile.

And AMEC, the international project management and engineering company, is near completion of one of the world’s most sophisticated and sensitive telescopes. The Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) will look back in time to study how the universe has evolved since the ‘Big Bang’.
Testing of the telescope will occur throughout May in Canada; once successfully completed, ACT will be shipped to the Atacama Desert region in Chile.

Designed to scan a patch of sky millions of times, ACT will detect faint microwaves and then provide a series of images that will be used to show how the structure of the universe has evolved. As more distant microwaves are detected, researchers are able to, in effect, peer back in time.
The telescope’s testing is being led by Dr. Mark Devlin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at University of Pennsylvania.

"Our goal is to look at microwaves in finer resolution and greater sensitivity than has ever been done before. This will help determine new things about the universe. Foremost, we will directly test models of the very early stages of the birth and evolution of the universe. We will observe how large structures – clusters of galaxies – evolved over time. This telescope is the first of this size and is designed specifically to make these measurements." - Dr. Mark Devlin.

ACT’s 6.4 meter reflector makes it one of the world’s largest millimeter-wave telescopes. ACT will be sited in Atacama Desert’s Cerro Toco mountains at an altitude of 5,200 meters. The region’s high winds and extreme temperature swings presented unique design challenges. The telescope will be protected by a massive bowl-shaped shield; the entire structure is 12.2 meters in height.

At the same time, a proposal to build second telescope much larger than any in use in now is also moving ahead. The second telescope will have a mirror 30 metres across

Funded by the National Science Foundation in the United States, ACT is a collaboration between Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, NASA, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, astrophysics research group INOAE in Mexico, and the universities of Haverford, Columbia, Massachusetts, York College, Rutgers in the U.S.; Toronto and British Columbia in Canada; Universidad la Catolica in Chile; Cardiff in the UK and KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

"This telescope has a very scientific requirement. Within two years of the telescope’s operation, scientists should have sufficient data to identify and study some of the most massive structures in the universe giving them greater insight into the ‘Big Bang’ theory. It’s an extremely important piece of equipment and we are thrilled to be part of the team developing it." - AMEC’s David Halliday, Vice President Special Projects.

"We want to see the planets, to study their light, to see what the composition of the atmosphere is.... See if there are possible liveable conditions there, if there is oxygen, see if there is life there, there's chlorophyll, and see if there is intelligent life there, if there is air pollution" - astronomer René Racine.

AMEC is an international leader in the building of telescopes. It has begun working on the design for the world’s largest telescope, the Thirty-Metre Telescope. With the mirror the size of a football field, it will be housed in a stadium-sized observatory. The project, scheduled for completion in 2015, will provide astronomers with clearer views than any other ground-based optical telescope.

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