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‘ALMA radio telescope shut down due to COVID-19’

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Washington: The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the world’s largest multi-dish radio telescope, has temporarily closed operations due to the spread of COVID-19 in the country, the observatory said.

ALMA shut down its operations on March 22 due to the developments related to coronavirus, according to a statement.

“We made the unprecedented decision to shut down ALMA for the well-being and health of all staff, to ensure they can be at home with their families while this pandemic unfolds,” ALMA Director, Sean Dougherty said.

“An incredible effort was made by staff to ensure a safe and successful shutdown,” Dougherty said.

He added that “a team continues working at the observatory to keep vital telescope systems operational and ensure that  we are ready to restart operations whenever that is feasible.”

Located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, ALMA comprises 66 high-precision antennas, spread over distances of up to 16 kilometres.

This global collaboration is the largest ground-based astronomical project in existence.

According to the website of the observatory, ALMA is the largest radio telescope in the world.

This shutdown will enable ALMA staff to reduce social contact, better protect them and their families, and help reduce the spread of the virus, which has infected over 3,400 people and killed 18 in Chile so far.

The last scientific observations were completed on March 19, ALMA said.

Many ALMA staff members are now working from home and the observatory has implemented technical support to facilitate teleworking, it said.

The observation proposal deadline for Cycle 8 was postponed until a date to be determined, which will be no sooner than May 19, according to the statement.

In addition, the proprietary times of ALMA data sets have been extended by three months.

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