ALMA Software Ready for Action.

ALMA is an array of millimetre wave telescopes being constructed in the Atacama desert of Chile by an international consortium including Europe, the USA and Japan. With 16 of its planned 50 antennas now available, ALMA is ready for early scientific exploitation and its first call for proposals was issued on March 30th 2011. As the world's largest millimetre wave interferometer ALMA is a very powerful and complex instrument so to make it as easy as possible for astronomers to plan and make thier observations a special ALMA Observing Tool has been developed by a team led by Dr. Alan Bridger of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre. The software, which the Astronomers' main interface to ALMA, has been in development since 2002 and is already in use for commissioning of the facility. The tool is the first of its kind for an interferometer and its 500,000 lines of code were written by a team stretching from Edinburgh to Mitako (Tokyo) and which interacts with other ALMA developers at about 12 sites across the World.

The UKATC software group is thus part of a large collaboration, which includes the European Southern Observatory and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. Fortunately, Alan and many of his team have years of experience of developing integrated observation preparation, execution and analysis software, examples of which were deployed on the JCMT and UKIRT telescopes in Hawaii during 1998 and 1999. Packages like this make planning and executing observations very efficient and flexible, so it is possible to match observing plans to atmospheric conditions and maximise the scientific return from these powerful facilities.

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