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Recycled Radio Array Examines Interstellar Gas With Sharpened Eyes

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) will merge two university-based millimeter arrays -- the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) millimeter array and the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) millmeter array -- to form a powerful astronomical tool for the new millennium. At a new high-altitude site in eastern California, CARMA will provide unparalleled sensitivity, broad frequency coverage, sub-arcsecond resolution and wide-field heterogeneous imaging capabilities, along with new innovative technologies and educational opportunities. Image credit: CARMA
by Staff Writers
College Park MD (SPX) May 09, 2006
Fifteen newly linked and newly dedicated receiving dishes located in eastern California now constitute the world's most powerful millimeter-wavelength radio telescope.

The research team behind Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy, or CARMA, hopes the reconfigured dishes will give astronomers unprecedented power to learn more about the birth of galaxies, stars, planets and even the universe itself.

"Most of what we know about the universe has come from optical or light-observing telescopes," said science team leader Stuart Vogel of the University of Maryland. "However, each part of the electromagnetic spectrum opens new windows on the universe, and the millimeter-wave portion of the spectrum is the ticket for observing the universe's coldest matter, gas that is only tens of degrees above absolute zero."

Vogel explained that planets, stars and even galaxies are assembled from this very cold gas, "and what's special about CARMA is that it has the resolving power and sensitivity to observe this cold gas."

CARMA is a joint effort by the University of Maryland, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the California Institute of Technology.

Developing the CARMA site actually involved relocating 15 existing radio telescopes, including nine 6-meter dishes run jointly by Berkeley, Illinois and Maryland. The other six components are 10-meter dishes run by Caltech.

All were sent to the new array's Cedar Flat location, in eastern California's Inyo Mountains, and all received updated technology.

The result is a larger and much more powerful array to observe in the millimeter-wavelength radio spectrum. Participating scientists chose to create CARMA at Cedar Flat because the elevation, at 7,200 feet, gets them above much of the atmospheric water vapor that had reduced their sensitivity at lower locations.

"We're recycling the two U.S. millimeter arrays to make a new telescope that will be 10 times more powerful than what existed before," said Vogel, who was a director of the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association array prior to its incorporation into CARMA.

Astronomers using the new array will be able to peer into the hearts of galaxies to study cold molecular gas that fuels star and black-hole formation. They also will study protoplanetary disks surrounding newly forming stars.

The research team will look for chemical precursors to life in all these areas, and they hope that by studying cosmic microwave background radiation, CARMA will provide opportunities for new insights into the nature of dark energy and the origin and early evolution of the universe.

"These observations will address some of the most important questions in astrophysics today," said team member Lewis Snyder of Illinois. "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."

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Hidden Companion Star Explains Chameleon Supernova
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 09, 2006
Australian astronomers have found a predicted companion star left behind when its partner exploded in an unusual supernova five years ago.

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