THE TIME MACHINE; Largest telescope ever built will let astronomers look back into dawn of our universe.
THE world's largest telescope is taking scientists back in time hundreds of millions of years to the dawn of the cosmos.
The telescope lets them see when the stars started to shine, just a few hundred million years after the universe was formed.
The EUR974million Alma facility - funded by European, US and Asian agencies - has shown two galaxies colliding.
This would be visible using an optical telescope but Alma can pick out clouds of dense cold gas from which stars form.
It has produced a stunning image using 16 of its dishshaped antennae at the telescope on a high plateau in Chile's Atacama desert.
Images will be sharper when all 66 antennae at Alma, the world's biggest radio observatory, are in place by 2013.
American Alma project manager Mark McKinnon said: "Alma's test views show us star-forming regions on a level of detail that no other telescope on Earth or in space has attained. This capability can only get much better as Alma nears completion."
The 10-mile site collects tiny waves given off by clouds and enables astronomers to see hidden galaxies beyond them.
It will offer the best view yet of cold matter such as the dust clouds which condense to form stars, planets and galaxies but cannot be seen by modern telescopes. Cosmologists have theories about how the universe was formed by the big bang more than 13 billion years ago.
Now, astronomers will be able to see for themselves whether these theories are correct. Alma will also enable them to see the formation of planets around distant stars, such as one which is just 1% the age of our own Sun.
Astronomers are also studying another young star that may be forming up to a dozen Jupiter-sized planets.
They will also be looking at a massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy known as Sagittarius A. Astronomer Dr John Richer said: "We are hoping to find stars like our sun and watch brand new solar systems forming."
Traditional telescopes detect visible light and heat but they cannot see through freezing clouds of dust and gas that absorb energy before it hits Earth.
Dr Richer added: "We think that about half of the stars that form in distant galaxies might have been blocked out by dust, so Alma will see the other half of the universe which is hidden from us by these clouds."
One of Alma's scientific operations astronomers, Dr Diego Garcia, described it as a "new golden age of astronomy".
He added: "He added: "We are going to be able to see the beginning of the universe, how the first galaxies were formed.
"We are going to learn so much more about how the universe works."
SEE STARS THE EUR974million radio observatory in Chile's Atacama desert will have 66 dishes and cover 10 miles when it is completed in 2013.
SPACE AGE J Dishes at station FAR SIGHT 3Dish delivered MIND BLOWING Z Two galaxies collide over 70 million light years away