After two decades of construction, the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope has begun operating in the Chilean desert, giving astronomers a greater ability to peer even farther into the depths of the universe.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera inaugurated the $1.3 billion ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) complex Wednesday in an area located about 5,000 meters above sea level - an altitude where there is little humidity or cloud cover.
"This is a great privilege for Chile," he said. "Thanks to the contributions that you [scientists] have made, Chile has today practically been transformed into the world's astronomy capital."
Mr. Pinera then gave the word for astronomers to begin pointing the array's antennas toward the interior of the universe to begin searching for clues about the origins of the universe, from the coldest gases and dust where stars, planets and galaxies are formed, to the energy produced by the Big Bang.
When construction is fully complete by late 2013, the ALMA will be comprised of 66 dish antennas designed to capture wavelengths of light longer than anything visible to the human eye.
The telescope is an international project funded and operated by a consortium of nations in North America, Europe and East Asia.