Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canadian Universities Join New Telescope Consortium

Canada is a world leader in astrophysical research and much of this leadership depends on access to forefront, world-class telescopes. Astronomer's push to understand the Universe depends on building ever more powerful, and specialized, telescopes. This push has seen telescopes grow from Galileo's 2.5 cm (0.025 m) specimen to the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

One other significant change from Galileo's day is that astronomer's now use telescopes that span most of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum from gamma rays to long wavelength radio waves. Each part of  the EM spectrum offers a different perspective on the Universe and the ability to investigate different processes.

The new proposed telescope that seven Canadian universities have joined is the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT) which will be located high in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. CCAT will be the world's largest telescope viewing the Universe in sub-millimeter radio waves. This type of telescope is extremely useful for studying galaxies in the very young Universe. This was a very active time for galaxy and star formation.

The telescope was located in Chile for two very important reasons. The first is that the site is ideal for this type of telescope, It is "high and dry" which means that the observations will not be hampered by the atmosphere. The second reason is that the soon to be completed ALMA telescope will be located very near by and these two telescopes will complement each other extremely well. ALMA works in the same part of the EM spectrum and will be able to study the galaxies discovered by CCAT in exquisite detail.

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