While APEX sits comfortably on the Earth’s surface, it is capturing images that are far out of this world. APEX is an acronym for the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment and houses a modified ALMA prototype antenna – which is an array made up of satellite dishes. APEX boards with a number of observatories at Llano de Chajnantor in northern Chile. Situated high on a plateau at 5100 meters in the Atacama desert, the observatory is remote and inhospitable but perfectly situated to peer into the dusty Universe. APEX operates at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths that are often absorbed by the water vapor in our atmosphere. Atop this dry plateau, APEX has the best conditions for its observations.
Many telescopes and cameras capture the visible and infrared Universe, leaving the millimeter and submillimeter region relatively unexplored. A millimeter and better camera is ideal for looking into the cold parts of space, where dense areas of gas and dust form molecular clouds and new stars are born. These clouds are so frigid with temperature just above absolute zero. Normally invisible the Universe’s cosmic dust, APEX is able to capture brilliant images of these molecular clouds.
Recently, APEX has been given a helping hand with the addition of the ArTeMiS instrument. I’d tell you the meaning of the acronym but it’s very long and in French, so I decided to spare you. Attached to APEX, the new camera is capable of capturing images in the submillimeter wavelengths with a much larger field of view. Very cold dust particles emit energy in these wavelengths so they generally go undetected or are seen as dark obstructions. The images captured by ArTeMiS and APEX turn the cold particles into brilliant images of light and color.
So far, the only image taken by ArTeMiS that is publically available is an image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula. The sensor was sent back to France after a test run in order to add additional detectors to it. Researchers were very satisfied with the images captured. Hopefully we will be able to drool over more gorgeous images of our Universe very soon, once ArTeMiS is returned to APEX with additional improvements.