From Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)
ALMA has been shut down since 18 March 2020 due to COVID-19. The observatory was closed with all antennas and receivers powered down, with only the master timing maser remaining powered up via solar-charged batteries and a backup generator. A caretaker team remained on site to inspect the site and ensure safety and security. Employees in Santiago were in a work-from-home mode.
The Santiago offices opened for a maximum of 10 essential personnel on September 28 and with limited occupancy (max. 25) on November 9. A review for an occupancy of up to 50 people was scheduled for Dec 11.
At the Operations Support Facility (OSF), preparations for re-occupation began October 1, with the first power generator restarted October 6, having been offline for 199 days. On October 21 limited staff moved back into the Residencia for cleaning, opening the data centre, beginning cafeteria services, and establishing stable utilities (power, water, water treatment). First re-occupancy by staff was at the end of October. Work is progressing well, and staff morale remains high.
The first phase of the planned return to the high site (the Array Operations Site or AOS) began on December 10. The status of critical equipment other than the maser was unknown at the time of writing. The goal for the next phase is to recover enough antennas (10-15) so that science operations can begin and a basic system checkout. There are significant technical risks remaining, e.g. powering up the correlator, the central local oscillator, infrastructure such as power and water, plus a backlog of maintenance.
If all goes well, the majority of the recovery would be completed by the end of January. ALMA would then enter its normal February maintenance shutdown (weather is too poor for significant observing in February), and PI science could resume in early March 2021, after a nearly full year hiatus. Cycle 7 observing will then resume until the end of September 2021, with Cycle 8 commencing on October 1.
Cycle 8 Call for Proposals
In mid-December, the ALMA Observatory is expected to issue its Cycle 8 Pre-announcement, which will include the key dates for the Cycle 8 Call for Proposals (CfP), plus a list of the new capabilities to be offered, including single field polarization with the ACA, 7-m Array spectral scans, VLBI of faint targets, and other new observing modes. The CfP is expected in mid-March, 2021, with the deadline for proposal submission in mid-April.
For several years, Christine Wilson (McMaster University) has represented Canada on the ALMA Science Advisory Council (ASAC). ASAC, made up of distinguished scientists from North America, Europe, East Asia, and Chile, provides scientific advice to the ALMA Board on the scientific operation of the ALMA project, as representatives of the wider astronomical community. At the end of this year, Christine will be retiring from ASAC. In her place, Erik Rosolowsky (University of Alberta) has been appointed to the council. We wish to thank Christine for her long standing service representing Canadian scientists on the ASAC, and to wish Erik well.