The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has shared its highest-resolution image ever, featuring a star in the final stages of its evolution.
ALMA is a ground-based telescope array located on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. With 66 receivers, it is the largest millimeter-wave telescope in the world. Its latest observation — and highest-resolution snapshot to date — captures an up-close view of an evolved star called R Leporis that is located within our own Milky Way galaxy, about 1,350 light-years from Earth.
“This remarkable achievement in high-resolution imaging through ALMA’s advanced capabilities marks a significant milestone in our quest to understand the universe,” Yoshiharu Asaki, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
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To capture this unprecedented view, researchers developed a new calibration technique called the band-to-band method. This strategy compensates for atmospheric fluctuations by observing a nearby calibrator in low-frequency radio waves, while the target is observed with high-frequency radio waves.
“Achieving this unparalleled resolution through the band-to-band method has pushed ALMA’s capabilities to their absolute limit, opening a new window for astrophysics,” Antonio Hales, North American ALMA Regional Center Deputy Manager and part of the science team, said in the statement. “This allows astronomers to probe phenomena with a precision that was once beyond our reach.”
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The new image, released on Nov. 15, was taken using ALMA’s highest frequency Band 10 receiver and an array configuration that spans 10 miles (16 kilometers). The band-to-band method significantly enhances ALMA’s high-frequency capabilities, enabling the telescope to observe objects at an angular resolution of 5 milli-arcseconds, which is equivalent to spotting a 33-foot-long (10 meters) bus on the moon from Earth, according to the statement.
At this resolution, ALMA observed submillimeter-wave emissions from the stellar surface, which is shown in orange, along with a bright ring-like structure of gas that is escaping from the star and into the surrounding space — called maser emission — which is shown in blue. Previous observations of R Leporis did not feature high enough resolution to discern the positions of the two emissions.
“The success of the Band 10 high-resolution observation showcases our commitment to innovation and reinforces ALMA’s position as a leader in astronomical discovery. We are excited about the new possibilities for the scientific community,” Asaki said in the statement.
Their findings were published Nov. 15 in The Astrophysical Journal.