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Alma Supercomputer Installs at the Top of the Andes

One of the most powerful supercomputers in the world has now been fully installed and tested at its remote, high altitude site in the Andes of northern Chile. The machine will be used to power the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based telescope in history.

The correlator is housed in the ALMA Array Operations Site Technical Building, the highest altitude high-tech building in the world. At 5000 metres, the air is thin, so twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine, which draws some 140 kilowatts of power. In this thin air, spinning computer disk drives cannot be used, as their read/write heads rely on a cushion of air to stop them crashing into their platters. Seismic activity is common, so the correlator had to be designed to withstand the vibrations associated with earthquakes.

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