For the first time a Chilean-led project obtains “large-scale” observation hours at ALMA

The initiative called “CRISTAL” will have nearly 150 hours and seeks to reveal what some of the most distant and earliest known galaxies are like and how they evolved into those seen in the local universe.

The ALMA observatory awarded nearly 150 hours of observing time to the CRISTAL project, the first Chilean-led initiative to be selected in what are considered “large-scale” projects (ALMA Large Project, or LP), that is, projects that address large-scale astronomical questions or problems and require a large amount of observing time.

The initiative is led by researcher Rodrigo Herrera-Camus of the Universidad de Concepción, together with the director of the Astronomy Nucleus of the Universidad Diego Portales, Manuel Aravena, Jorge González-López (Las Campanas Observatory and the UDP Astronomy Nucleus) and Leopoldo Infante, Director of Las Campanas Observatory. Together with a team of international scientists, they will seek to reveal what some of the most distant and earliest known galaxies look like and how they evolved into the galaxies seen in the local universe (such as spirals, ellipticals, etc.).

“Given that ALMA represents an international effort between North America, Europe, Asia and our country, it was very important for us to put together an international team of researchers from Chile that is representative of this alliance, and who contribute from their different and varied areas of expertise”, says Rodrigo Herrera-Camus in view of the relevance of international collaboration in this initiative.

“Our project will observe the cold gas in the interstellar medium of these distant galaxies to trace the shape of the galaxies (morphology) and the motion of their gas (kinematics), and how this cold gas is related to star formation and the intergalactic medium,” says Aravena. With these data, they will seek to resolve questions such as: what are these early galaxies like? are these galaxies like the “spirals” we observe in the local universe? are they rather “irregular”? and where does the gas through which stars are forming in these galaxies come from?

Only a handful of projects each year become ALMA LPs and obtain more than 50 hours of observation. To do so, the initiatives must pass the highest standards of scrutiny by a panel of peer reviewers composed of internationally recognized scientists.

For Herrera-Camus, the opportunities generated by the development of CRISTAL will be of great benefit to the scientific community “This project represents a great opportunity for the development of our astronomical community, especially for our students and young scientists who will have access to innovative and high quality observations”.

“This year was the first year in which the timely application process at ALMA was doubly anonymous: the reviewers did not know who the authors of the projects were, only the merit of the projects mattered,” González-López emphasizes. He adds that “this project will allow us to continue demonstrating that world-class science is done in Chile, it is not just a country where large telescopes are installed”.

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