The first nine months of the project

An innovative antenna design, a large science community engagement, snow and volcanos, practical challenges of remote observations, a weather resilient renewable energy system, and a roadmap for the future.

screenshot of a virtual meeting, collage of pictures

AtLAST collaborators and external advisory committee members participating in the consortium meeting.

On Nov 11, 2021 the second AtLAST consortium-wide meeting was held since the project started in March 2021. The purpose of the meeting was to update everyone on the work that has been carried out in these first nine months of the project, and introduce the project to the members of the external expert advisory committee.

A new way to look at the Universe

With more than 25 attendees, the meeting hosted quite a full house. Amongst others, the recently approved baseline antenna design by Work Package 2 was discussed. The main goals of the next phase are to move forward with the preferred design and to fully engineer the structure, really digging into the details through finite element analysis.

– It is already very clear that AtLAST will enable astronomers to look at the Universe in a completely new way, commented Tony Mroczkowski, coordinator of Work Package 2 - Design.

A growing and enthusiastic community

From UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Pamela Klaassenlead of Work Package 6 - Science, and Joanna Ramasawmy presented the results from the science activities. 28 AtLAST use cases, covering science from cometary chemistry to cosmology, have been received from more than 100 WP6 contributors, of which 98 are external collaborators from 22 different countries.
– Engaging with the broader astronomical community about the potential of AtLAST has shown me that there are scientists all over the world who are really excited about the leaps in understanding what the facility will enable, commented Dr. Ramasawmy.

map of the world
The figure shows the geographic distribution of authors of the AtLAST WP6.1 use cases

The next step will be to organise this enthusiastic community of future AtLAST users into working groups for the development of the science case that will guide the final matrix of requirements for the telescope.

As part of Work Package 6 - Science, the team also generates predictions for future observations with AtLAST. The first promising results of this study were presented by Alice Schimek, early career researcher at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics (University of Oslo), who is currently using state-of-the-art, high-resolution computer simulations to model the conditions of the first galaxies in the Universe.

Learning from experience

Working under the assumption that operations will be led by an international cooperation, the team involved in the Work Package 4 - Operations, led by Evanthia Hatziminaoglou, will study the science and technical operations of AtLAST.

– Our strength is the ability to capitalise on experience from existing large observatories and on that acquired during the pandemic, commented Dr. Hatziminaoglou.

Carlos De Breuck shared the many practical challenges he faced while observing remotely with APEX from Europe and stressed that some observers do not have very fond memories of COVID-19-forced remote observing.

– This is understandable, says Francisco Montenegro, head of science operations at the APEX telescope and member of the WP4 team.

– Remote observations had to be set up quickly and with a retro-fit design. A well-designed solution plus enhanced technologies to come in the next decade may improve the results, he continued.

Snow and volcanos, wind and earthquakes

Next on the list, Carlos De Breuck presented the progress done on the site selection work (Work Package 3).

– There are many constraints, stated Dr. De Breuck, one of those is not to bother our neighbours: we need to keep a good distance from the ALMA antennas and pads.

Then Tony Mroczkowski rose the question, half-jokingly,

– Could AtLAST be built in the caldera of an extinct volcano both for wind and damping the response to earthquakes?

Guillermo Valenzuela, postdoctoral fellow at University of Oslo, answered by showing the new map of the snow coverage of the Chajnantor plateau area that he produced.
– Additional measurements are needed to make an informed site recommendation, concluded the WP-3 team.

Powering the telescope sustainably

Much time during these first months was dedicated to estimate the power demand of the new telescope. The team of Work Package 5 - Energy has been in constant communication with other work packages, to base the demand estimations on the telescope design work.

– One of the big challenges of the AtLAST project is to set up an energy system to cover the power needs of the new telescope with renewable energy technologies only, said excited Isabelle Viole, early-career researcher in the environmental sustainability study at University of Oslo.

Sabrina Sartori, coordinator for WP5, stated:

– Our main goal is to provide green power to the telescope and to local communities. We are also designing a storage system to ensure stability in the operation of the telescope during day and night, and to provide an alternative sustainable solution to the current use of diesel generators.

– Since the government of Chile is planning to step down the use of fossil fuel, it will be an exciting opportunity for us to discuss with local stakeholders possible collaborative solutions, she added.

Currently, the team is looking at the potential solar power production on site. 

– With the help of climate models, we forecasted some relevant parameters of solar electricity production. Next, we want to complement these with real data from weather stations, commented Dr. Valenzuela.

Roadmap for the future

The last work package to present was the Work Package 1 - Coordination.

– This is at the same time the most visible and most invisible work we do, explained Claudia Cicone, coordinator of the project. 

– Within WP1 we take care of the dissemination activities of the project such as website and social media posts, but we also spend a substantial amount of time interweaving all of the individual parts of this extremely complex and interdisciplinary project, making sure there is a constant feedback and communication between different project members and the project is on track.

Lastly, Andy Williams presented the plan for the study exploring options for the future legal structure and governance of the AtLAST infrastructure. By the end of it, in late 2023, it will be clear what the AtLAST roadmap will look like after the EU-funded design study.

Published Nov. 29, 2021 1:55 PM - Last modified Nov. 30, 2021 11:46 AM