SANTIAGO (AFP) - The worlds largest network of radio telescopes is ready to begin the first phase of operations in northern Chiles Atacama Desert, an observatory announced Thursday.
The ALMA complex, under construction for over a decade, received on Wednesday the 16th of 66 total antennas, enough to begin its first science observations, and is therefore an important milestone for the project, said the European Southern Observatory, which operates Chiles Paranal observatory.
Antenna 16, measuring 12 meters (40 feet) in diameter and weighing nearly 100 tons, is the first European contribution to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array project as part of a collaboration with United States and Japan.
It was delivered at the Chajnantor plateau, 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level, where it joined antennas from the other international ALMA partners.
The European AEM Consortium, under contract from ESO, manufactured the antenna.
ALMAs Early Science observations are planned to begin later this year.
Although ALMA will still be under construction, the 16-antenna array that will be available already outmatches all other telescopes of this kind, ESO said in a statement.
Astronomers from around the world have submitted nearly a thousand proposals for the first scientific observations about nine times the number of observations expected to be performed during the early phase, it said.
The program has an estimated budget of $600 million.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 30-Jul-2011 here.