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Workers at world's largest – and most remote – telescope go on strike

'More money and bennies, or no more pretty starbirth snaps,' demand ALMA staffers

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Workers at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, aka ALMA, have embarked upon a decidedly down-to-earth pursuit at the world's largest astronomical installation: they've gone on strike.

"The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array regrets that it was unable to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with its union," the observatory announced, noting that because of that failure a "legal strike" began at 8:00am on Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, nearly 200 workers are striking over equally down-to-earth demands: better pay and working conditions. To be specific, they want a 15 per cent rise in pay, and benefits that compensate them for the extreme conditions in which they work.

"Extreme" is no overstatement. ALMA is located at an elevation of 16,500 feet in Chile's Atacama Desert, which is among – if not the – driest spots on earth. It's also windy, cold, and as might be expected at 16,500 feet, a place with a rarified atmosphere not conducive to, say, spirited football matches during off hours.

The work stoppage comes just days after the $1.4bn installation, funded by the US, Europe, Japan, and Canada, proudly published a stirring image of a star being born, and just months after ALMA became fully operational this March.

"ALMA has activated a contingency plan that will enable it to continue basic operations" during the strike, the observatory said, noting that management is "confident that it will soon overcome these challenging times and continue to deliver fascinating scientific discoveries to the world." ®

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