The design of the next-generation telescope starts now!

March 2021 marks the start of the study design for a new, revolutionary, low carbon footprint sub-millimetre telescope.

photo mosaic of screenshots of people at Zoom meeting

The (virtual) kick-off meeting of AtLAST took place on March 16th 2021, and gathered astronomers, energy-system experts and engineers from all over the world. “This is a diverse team that is bound by common goals and aspirations” - Dr. Hatziminaoglou. Photo: Cicone/UiO.

- Congratulations! AtLAST was one of the 10 selected projects out of 55, and the only one in astronomy. Keep in mind: with the privilege comes great responsibilities. 

These were the words of Mina Koleva, Policy Officer at the European Commission, opening the kick-off meeting of AtLAST, the EU-funded design study of the world's largest sub-millimetre single-dish astronomical telescope.

With a full-house attendance, the (online) meeting was streamed across the globe gathering the entire consortium around the same purpose: sync up about the scope, goals, budget, and timeline of AtLAST.

- I knew we have a great team, but I am also aware it is challenging to keep people engaged these days through online events, and I did not expect to experience such a good vibe in a Zoom meeting, comments Dr. Claudia Cicone, associate professor at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics (University of Oslo) and project coordinator of AtLAST.

The meeting was the perfect opportunity to get to know team members’ roles, spark discussion that enabled to build a clear roadmap together.

- In a collaboration and a facility of this size, communications are key, adds Dr. Evanthia Hatziminaoglou, researchers at European Southern Observatory (ESO), in charge of the study of the possible models for operating the telescope.

- An healthy dose of cross pollination between the work-packages that will, in the end, strengthen the overall design and case for the facility, clinches Dr. Pamela Klaassen of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh and leader of the work-package addressing the scientific goals of the project.

– A truly inter-disciplinary project!

logo of AtLAST project is a sketch of a large radio antenna on a hill and many small radio antennas
Logo of the AtLAST design study. It illustrates AtLAST as the largest antenna amongst the radio and sub-millimetre telescopes currently found in the Atacama desert, in Chile. Credits: Luca Di Mascolo.

Towards an Atacama Large Aperture Submillimetre Telescope (in short AtLAST) is a concept for a next generation 50-meter class single-dish astronomical observatory operating at sub-millimetre and millimetre wavelengths. The project consists of six main work items that will progress in parallel but remaining linked together through a continuous mutual collaboration and interchange of information and results.

- The team is very united and brings together the expertise and common grounds from different projects, tells us Dr. Cicone.

In a brand-new website, the general public and astronomy experts can dive into details of the study design of AtLAST, learn about the science goals, discover the technological solutions that will make AtLAST environmentally-friendly, and finally meet the diverse team of this revolutionary observatory.

- It was exciting to hear the science and technology behind our various work-packages, and see how scientists with such various background can work together towards a common goal, says excited Dr. Sabrina Sartori at the Department of Technology Systems (University of Oslo), in charge of the environmental sustainability study of AtLAST.

- The kickoff meeting highlighted how closely inter-connected all the work-packages are. This is a truly inter-disciplinary project!, concludes Dr. Carlos De Breuck, researcher at ESO and in charge of the activities for determining the best location for AtLAST.

“Born” during a pandemic

photo mosaic of screenshots of six persons during a zoom meeting
AtLAST design study: the leads on each of the six work packages during a Zoom meeting in May 2020. Credits: Cicone/UiO.

It was March 2020 when AtLAST got granted 3.5 million euros by the European commission under the Horizon2020 research and innovation programme.

Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed people’s lifestyle and working routines,  posing numerous challenges, some logistics ones mainly due to travel restrictions.

- We are learning to navigate large collaborations that interact almost exclusively in virtual environments, comments astronomer Dr. Tony Mroczkowski from ESO, coordinator of the antenna design study and the engineering work.

The interaction with international partners and some of the work-packages activities are inevitably affected.

- This further highlights the need to design the telescope to be as remotely operable and automatic as possible, while still delivering a facility accessible to the broad community, continues Dr. Mroczkowski

The pandemic poses a big challenge to the site selection as well. 

- The down-selection of possible locations needs us to go on site to check the road accessibility. The installation of a weather tower is going to be challenging, but our collaborators in Chile and at APEX will be of great help, alerts Dr. De Breuck.

For somebody, zoom fatigue is the hardest obstacle, as trying to get people to coordinate across wildly different timezones.

– There is enthusiasm and commitment from all work-packages participants and leaders, and flexibility and creativity to overcome any challenges that we have ahead, concludes Dr. Cicone.


Contact information:

  • Dr. Claudia Cicone, PI of AtLAST and assoc. prof. at Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo
  • Martina D’Angelo, press contact at Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo

For more info on AtLAST- design study visit

Tags: Kick-off meeting, AtLAST, consortium, WP2-Design, WP4-Operations, WP6-Science, WP3-Site, WP1-Governance, WP5-Energy By Martina D'Angelo
Published Mar. 30, 2021 11:01 AM - Last modified Apr. 2, 2021 2:11 PM