ALMA Matters

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By / par Brenda Matthews and Gerald Schieven (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2022)

ALMA Targeted in Cyberattack

On the morning of Saturday, October 29, ALMA was targeted by a cyberattack on its computer systems, forcing the suspension of astronomical observations and the public website. The threat was contained, and the attack did not compromise the ALMA antennas or any scientific data. A Crisis Management Team at the Joint ALMA Observatory developed a full-recovery plan in consultation with cyber security officers from ESO/NAOJ/NRAO. The recovery timescale includes the ambition to resume observations by the end of 2022. PIs impacted by the interruption in observations will be contacted once systems operations return. ALMA users should monitor the Science Portal (and emails to the CASCA exploder) for updates to observing schedules and the upcoming Cycle 10 Call for Proposals. An announcement is expected the week of 19 December about the restart of observations.

ALMA Publications


Astronomers from Canadian institutions continue to hit above their weight when it comes to ALMA publications. The attached figure shows the number of ALMA publications from 2012 through 2021 (blue bars), the number of publications with a Canadian first author (orange bars), and the fraction of publications with Canadian first authors (orange line) and with a Canadian in the author list (grey line). Canada funds about 2.7% of the global budget for ALMA, yet well over 3% of publications feature a Canadian first author. In 2021, 17% of all papers had a Canadian author. By early December, there were 368 ALMA publications in 2022.

ALMA Primer Instructional Videos

Radio interferometry, including with ALMA, is a complex and often non-intuitive field. Like the ALMA introductory document, Observing with ALMA – A Primer, the ALMA Primer Instructional Video Series is designed to provide a basic introduction to radio interferometry, calibration, imaging, and other topics in brief (5-15 minutes), bite-size pieces. In addition, short (<1minute) extracts of some of these videos are available to use when teaching or in presentations. The series is a work in progress; new videos are added periodically.

The ALMA Primer Instructional Video Series will soon be available from the ALMA Science Portal. The videos are also available from the ALMA Primer YouTube Channel. Subscribe to be alerted whenever new videos are added!

NRC is Building the Next Generation ALMA Correlator

As part of an overall ALMA2030 vision, ALMA has engaged in the Wideband Sensitivity Upgrade (WSU) project. The WSU will initially double, and eventually quadruple, ALMA’s system bandwidth and will deliver improved sensitivity by upgrading the receivers, digital electronics and correlator. The WSU will afford significant improvements for every future ALMA observation, whether it is for continuum or spectral line science. At its November 2022 meeting, the ALMA Board approved a key aspect of the WSU, construction of the ALMA TALON Central Signal Processor (AT.CSP) at a projected cost of 35.9M USD, including contingency and commissioning. The AT.CSP design leverages nearly a decade of R&D work at NRC-HAA’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory to develop the SKA-mid Correlator/beamformer (CBF). This next generation correlator for ALMA will double the current (dual-polarization) 8 GHz instantaneous bandwidth of ALMA, with a path forward to double it yet again. In addition, AT.CSP will allow up to 1.2 million channels to be sampled simultaneously, enabling high spectral resolution to be achieved across the observable band width. The AT.CSP will be a joint NRC-NRAO project, with the former focusing on the hardware and the latter the software. The AT.CSP project is expected to start in January 2023 and be completed in a little over five years. Excitingly, this success means Canada will be responsible for providing correlators for the world’s three most prominent radio interferometers, i.e., the Jansky VLA, the SKA-mid, and now ALMA. In addition, the ALMA Board in November approved construction of Phase 1 of the new Data Transmission System (DTS) that will relay from the ALMA antennas to the correlator the large amounts of data resulting from the WSU. The DTS is a joint North America-East Asia project that will be completed in 2.5 years.

More information about the correlator upgrade can be found in Carpenter et al., 2022, ALMA Memo 621.

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