Universities unite to create CARMA

15-telescope array to provide most powerful view into universe          Send a link to a friend

[MAY 11, 2006]  CHAMPAIGN -- Astronomers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be observing the universe with a new millimeter-wave telescope array located in the high desert of California. The facility, called the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy, was dedicated May 5 at Cedar Flat in the Inyo Mountains near Bishop.

CARMA is a joint venture of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois. Developing the site involved moving the six 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory, along with nine 6-meter telescopes at the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association array, to the new Cedar Flat location.

"By combining two university-based millimeter arrays into one 15-telescope array, we have created a much more powerful astronomical tool," said Richard Crutcher, a professor of astronomy at Illinois and a member of the CARMA science steering committee. "CARMA will be able to produce images comparable in resolution to the Hubble space telescope and will be the most powerful telescope of its type for years to come."

According to Crutcher, a major advantage of relocating the telescopes to Cedar Flat is the dry air at the site's elevation of 7,200 feet, which is more than twice as high as the previous locations of the telescopes. At the new high-altitude site, CARMA will provide unparalleled sensitivity, opening new windows into the hidden universe.

"CARMA is a premier facility and will be used both for conducting front-line research and for training the next generation of radio astronomers," said James Kirkpatrick, executive associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Illinois and a member of the CARMA board of representatives.

"Our participation in building and operating this important observatory strongly supports the research and educational excellence expected of Illinois as a major research university," Kirkpatrick said.

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Astronomers using CARMA will peer into the hearts of galaxies to study the cold molecular gas that fuels star formation and feeds massive black holes. They also will study disks that surround newly forming stars and are believed to be future sites of planet formation, identify interstellar clouds of molecules that can form the building blocks of life, and examine fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation in order to study the origin and early evolution of the universe.

"These observations will address some of the most important questions in astrophysics today," said Lewis Snyder, a professor emeritus of astronomy at Illinois and a leader in the effort to develop the combined array. "These questions include how the first stars and galaxies formed, how stars and planetary systems like our own are formed, and what the chemistry of the interstellar gas can tell us about the origins of life."

The new array is operated by the CARMA Association, which comprises the four partner universities. The association coordinates the separate activities of its members through a board of representatives that includes senior administrators from each partner university and the CARMA science steering committee, made up of an equal number of scientists from Caltech and from the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association.

The National Science Foundation has supported Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory array and the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association array since their inception and will continue to support CARMA operations.

Construction costs for the combined array, which has a value in excess of $50 million, were divided among the National Science Foundation and the four universities. Astronomers around the world have access to the facility.

Further information may be found at http://www.mmarray.org/.

[University of Illinois news release; LDN]

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