An artistic impression of the edge of Venus with an inset image showing phosphine Molecules.   Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/L. Calcada & NASA/JPL/Caltech.
An artistic impression of the edge of Venus with an inset image showing phosphine Molecules. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/L. Calcada & NASA/JPL/Caltech.


ALMA starts the process of recovering the telescope array 

On the 1st of October, the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) announced that ALMA is now scheduled to begin the process of recovering the telescope array.  This will begin with preparations of the ALMA Observations Support Facility (OSF, located at an elevation of 2900 m) for the return of staff and contractors.  Once the OSF is operational again, the plan is to restart work at the Array Operations Site (AOS, located at an elevation of 5000 m).  

The restart plan will take 80 days to reach the point where the antennas are powered up again.  This means that the earliest point in time at which enough receivers are functional for science observations will be January.  However, the JAO has emphasized that the exact timeline for these activities is highly uncertain and may be affected by various factors that are out of the control of JAO staff.  Also, the JAO anticipates that science observations will be suspended in February for annual maintenance activities during the Altiplanic winter.

More information is available from the statement on the ESO website.


ALMA Regional Centre Community Assembly

To keep the European astronomical community up-to-date about the functioning of ALMA, ESO will be organizing a virtual community assembly on the 8th of October at 09:00 BST (10:00 CEST).  The organizers will provide a brief update about ALMA's status and then answer any questions from participants.

The meeting is accessible from this link.


Press Release: Potential Life Marker found on Venus

An international team of scientists has announced the discovery of the molecule phosphine in the clouds of Venus. The team, led by Prof. Jane Greaves of Cardiff University and including the UK ARC Node's Dr. Anita Richards, used data from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and ALMA to make this exciting discovery.

The abundance of the observed phosphine is so large that natural physical processes on Venus (such as lightning and volcanoes, which are known to produce the molecule here on Earth) are not thought to be capable of producing it. This has lead the authors of the work to suggest an alternate mechanism: the production of phosphine by biological means. Terrestrial organisms can make phosphine and would only have to work at around 10% of their maximum capability to produce the observed quantities on Venus. If the phosphine is produced by organisms on Venus, they would need to be very different to those on Earth so that they could survive the highly acidic environment in Venus' atmosphere.

The team cautioned that this is not confirmation of life on Venus, but the analysis of the observations do allow for many alternate phosphine creation pathways to be ruled out. Confirming life on Venus would require further investigation.

For additional information, see the full ESO press release or the RAS press release. The preprint of the journal article is available from the ESO website.


Press Release: Astronomers capture stellar winds in unprecedented detail

Astronomers using the ALMA telescope have observed the stellar winds of ageing asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars in unprecedented detail. These high sensitivity and high angular resolution observations have found that the stellar winds associated with the AGB stars are similar in shape to those of planetary nebulae rather than spherical as commonly assumed. This finding has lead the authors, including UK ARC Node staff, to conclude that interactions with companion stars or even heavy planets are causing the observed stellar wind patterns.

The data are part of the the ATOMIUM ALMA Large Program which is using ALMA to study the chemistry and kinematics of a large sample of cool red supergiants, with these findings of ATOMIUM appearing in Science.

Additional information:


(Not quite) Goodbyes... [Anita Richards retires]

Earlier this year, long serving UK ARC Node staff member and interferometry guru Anita Richards officially retired. Anita has been a senior member of the ALMA User Support team since the UK Node came into being in 2008, and a leading researcher in the physics of evolved stars. Through her many trips to the ALMA site, where she was key in processing ALMA data from its earliest Science Verification observations and later long baseline commissioning campaigns, to leading proposal preparation and data reduction workshops for the UK ALMA community, Anita has been instrumental in not only the success of the UK ARC Node but the ALMA project itself.

Although now nominally retired, Anita's involvement with ALMA continues, particularly with the ATOMIUM ALMA large program which is providing a unique new insight into the properties of evolved stars.

The UK ARC Node wishes Anita all the very best in her retirement. Given her recent run of involvement in press releases, retirement clearly suits her.


... and Hellos [Welcoming Ana Karla Díaz Rodríguez]

The start of October 2020 will see the first change in UK ARC Node staff in almost a decade with the appointment of Ana Karla Díaz Rodríguez. Ana Karla is joining us as a new ALMA support scientist at the UK ARC Node. She was previously at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain, and her main area of expertise and research is Galactic star-formation, particularly associated with the study of disks and jets from YSOs.

The UK ARC Node would like to welcome Ana Karla to the team and take this opportunity to introduce her to our UK ALMA community.


ALMA 2020 Virtual Workshop for New Postgraduate Students


Deadline for completing the pre-registration poll: 21 September

A new class of astronomy postgraduate strudents will be starting their studies this autumn, and many students will be working with ALMA data.  The purpose of this workshop is to help new students get started with their ALMA research.

The workshop will be conducted by staff from the UK ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) Node.  Because of the ongoing issues with COVID-19, the workshop will be conducted virtually using Zoom

The workshop will be scheduled as a series of half-day sessions running an entire week and will cover the following topics:

  • An introduction to ALMA
  • An introduction to radio interferometry
  • An overview on using the ALMA Archive
  • Calibrating and inspecting data from the ALMA archive
  • Imaging ALMA data
  • Data analysis

At the end of the workshop, UK ARC Node staff will be available to help with any questions related to participants' specific research.

Pre-Registration Survey

To set the dates for the workshop and to identify what specific needs people may have, any interested students should fill in this poll.  We will announce further details about the meeting by the end of September.


Study into the benefits that the UK derives from ESO

A message from the STFC:

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation, has commissioned consultancy firm Technopolis to assess the benefits that the UK derives from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).  This study will seek to capture, demonstrate and measure the scientific, economic and social impacts emerging from the UK’s investment and involvement with ESO.

A key part of the study is to take into account the views of UK scientists and engineers on the level and range of benefits they believe has been derived from ESO. Technopolis would like to hear from UK scientists and engineers who have:

  • Made use of the ESO telescopes and instruments.
  • Been directly involved in ESO instrument development projects.
  • Accessed ESO observational data remotely.
  • Accessed research publications that are based on ESO observations and data.

Technopolis have launched an online questionnaire. The survey can be accessed at

The questionnaire should take no longer than 15-20 minutes to complete and we would be grateful if you could do so by Friday 2nd October.  All information provided will be treated in strict confidence by Technopolis, and only shared or published in a synthesised and anonymised form. If you are happy to be interviewed as well, there is an opportunity to provide your contact details at the end of the survey.

Thank you in advance for your support with this important exercise.


CASA-VLBI workshop

02-06 Nov 2020

JIVE (Virtual event)


The capabilities of the CASA software to process and analyse VLBI data have expand significantly over recent years. With the aim of educating new and existing VLBI astronomers in the use of CASA new capabilities, JIVE is hosting a second CASA-VLBI workshop from 2-6 November. Because of the ongoing issues with COVID-19, this will be a fully online event with the aim of having live online lectures, interactive sessions with tutors, and a Slack-like discussion platform. Detailed information will be posted on the workshop homepage as it becomes available. There will be no registration fee for this workshop, but registration is required to obtain access to the live lectures, interactive sessions and discussion platform. Access to recorded lectures and online materials after the workshop is planned to be available with no registration needed.

The registration deadline is Oct 30 2020.


Continuing to support our UK ALMA Users

While remote working remains the norm for the majority of astronomers in the UK and beyond, the UK ARC Node would like to make our users aware of our continued availability to support your work with ALMA data. We are able to provide remote / electronic support to any UK ALMA users who require our assistance at this time.

As such, if you require user support for your PI lead or ALMA archival data processing and analysis in the coming weeks and months, we are contactable via the usual means (contact details below) and can provide a range of electronic support options to help you meet your goals. We also encourage our users to make use of the data available in the ALMA Archive (more details in the next article) at this time.

Further information on the status of operations at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (home of the UK ARC Node), Jodrell Bank Observatory and the e-MERLIN National Facility can be found here.


ALMA Archive Use

While the operations at ALMA remain suspended, the UK ARC Node would like to remind the community about the wealth of data available in the ALMA Archive and encourage its use. ALMA has been in science operations for almost 9 years, and as a consequence, ALMA data are publicly available for a huge number of astrophysical objects. The archive can be accessed at and contains the following downloadable data products:

  • Archival image products, suitable for some science cases and as a first look at the programs observations.
  • Raw data that can be reprocessed using by the user with the associated scripts from the archive.

Upon request from UK ALMA users, the UK ARC Node can provide fully calibrated measurements sets for entire or parts of ALMA projects that can then be used for creating new images. These products can be hosted in Manchester and can be made available for an amount of time agreed upon between the ARC Node and the user. Assistance with imaging ALMA data is also available from the UK ARC Node upon request. Please also see the news item on the UK ARC Node's current remote support provisions.

Alternately, the EU ARC at ESO provides, upon request, a service to create and stage fully calibrated ALMA data of individual measurement observation unit sets (MOUSs), with up to 10 MOUSs per request. An MOUS is a single execution of a projects scheduling block. This webpage provides instructions on accessing the service.