While the impact of COVID-19 continues to affect our lives worldwide, ALMA staff have been moving forward on the long road toward recovering the Arrays and resuming science operations. The ALMA antennas are in the process of being powered up and inspected one by one to make them ready for science observations. The positive news at this moment is that the tests from data acquisition to data processing have been successful.
The assessment of the safety and technical constraints, in addition to the success of the end-to-end tests, allows ALMA to start observing again. After a year of shutdown due to the pandemic, science operations should resume in March 2021.
“It has been a very challenging year for everybody. We had to suspend ALMA operations on behalf of staff safety,” says ALMA Director Sean Dougherty. “Given the circumstances, ALMA collaborators worked fantastically during the year, both from home and taking shifts to ensure the integrity of the observatory. It is now really exciting to be able to resume sciences operations, continuing to follow our detailed plan to reduce risks and keep all staff and collaborators safe as the top priority.”
In the beginning, science operations will be limited. At least forty of the sixty-six antennas will be available. Like regular operations, projects in the Cycle 7 observing queue will be executed if suitable for observation with the available number of antennas. The execution time will be increased to account for the lower sensitivity of the reduced number of antennas to achieve the sensitivity requested by the Primary Investigator. Also, test observations on capabilities for future cycles will be performed.
In parallel to science operations, ALMA continues to recover antennas to enable regular operations. All activities at the observatory are being conducted following an extensive set of safety protocols for managing the risk posed by the virus. As always, the health and safety of all ALMA staff is our top priority.
Status updates will be provided on a regular basis.