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An extension of the agreement between the partners of the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) has been signed, ensuring that this very productive collaboration will continue until the end of 2022. The 12metre APEX
telescope saw first light in 2005 and has provided astronomers with detailed views of the coldest objects and processes in the Universe.
APEX is a collaborative effort between the MaxPlanckInstitute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany, ESO and the Onsala Space Observatory(OSO) in Onsala, Sweden, and the agreement was signed by ESO’s
Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, Karl Menten, Director at the MaxPlanckInstitut für Radioastronomie and John Conway, Director of the Onsala Space Observatory. The ceremony took place at Chalmers University of
Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Under the APEX extension agreement, the telescope will be upgraded to significantly improve the overall observing efficiency, and the suite of instruments will be upgraded to a new generation. These new instruments include several prototype receivers for ALMA, opening up new atmospheric windows (eso1543) and increasing the bandwidth of existing receivers. In order to better accommodate the high demand for APEX from the #eso community, ESO’s share will increase from 27% to 32%. The MPIfR share will also increase from 50% to 55%, while the OSO share will decrease from 23% to 13%.
APEX is designed to work at submillimetre wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves, from 0.2 to 1.9 millimetres, which is key to revealing some of the coldest material in the Universe. Over the years, it has shed light
on a wide range of astronomical phenomena. It has probed the wild early lives of today’s most massive galaxies (eso1206), studied matter torn apart by a supermassive black hole (eso0841), and mapped the plane of the Milky
Way at submillimetre wavelengths (eso1606). It also detected molecules of hydrogen peroxide in interstellar space for the first time (eso1123), solved a centuriesold mystery of a stellar collision (eso1511), and — in
conjunction with other telescopes around the world — observed the heart of a distant quasar, producing images two million times sharper than human vision (eso1229).
Because submillimetre radiation from space is heavily absorbed by water vapour in the Earth's atmosphere, APEX is located at an altitude of 5100 metres on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the
driest places on Earth, where unsurpassed observing opportunities are available.
As its name implies, APEX is the pathfinder to the ALMA project. It is a modified ALMA prototype antenna and shares the site of the ALMA observatory, which is itself now fully operational as the world's largest groundbased
facility for observations in the millimetre/submillimetre regime. ALMA comprises a giant array of fiftyfour 12metre antennas and twelve 7metre antennas, which — thanks to the pioneering efforts of APEX — enables
transformational research into the physics of the cold Universe, probing the first stars and galaxies, and directlyimaging the formation of planets. Several of APEX’s strengths, such as its capability to map very wide areas, are
highly complementary to ALMA.
With the extension of the agreement to 2022, the European user community will continue to benefit from this privileged opportunity to optimally prepare for ALMA followup programmes and APEX will continue to probe the
cold and distant Universe, undoubtedly contributing further exciting discoveries.
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