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CARMA Groundbreaking Set for March 27

PASADENA, Calif.—Groundbreaking for the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA) facility is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, at Cedar Flat in the Inyo Mountains near Bishop, California. The media is invited to attend.

CARMA is a joint venture of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Maryland. Creating the new CARMA site will involve moving the six existing 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's OVRO millimeter-wave array, along with the nine 6-meter telescopes at the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) array, to the new Cedar Flat location.

According to Anneila Sargent, CARMA director, the greatest advantage of relocating the telescopes to Cedar Flat is the dry air at the altitude of 7,300 feet, which is almost twice as high as the present OVRO and BIMA array locations.

More telescopes, innovative technology, and better atmospheric transmission make CARMA a much more powerful instrument than the present arrays, says Sargent, who is also a professor of astronomy at Caltech. The facility will be used to observe molecular gas and dust in planets, star-forming clouds, planet-forming disks around other stars, nearby galaxies, and galaxies so distant that they must have formed soon after the Big Bang.

"These measurements will enable studies that address directly some of the most important questions in astrophysics today," says Sargent. "These include how the modern universe and the first stars and galaxies formed and evolved, 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 will be operated by the CARMA Association, which comprises the four partner universities. The association will coordinate 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 BIMA.

Board members are Thomas Tombrello, division chair for physics, mathematics and astronomy at Caltech, who is currently board chairman; R. James Kirkpatrick, executive associate dean, college of liberal arts and sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Stephen Halperin, dean of computer, mathematical and physical sciences, University of Maryland; and Mark Richards, dean of physical sciences, UC Berkeley. Professor Leo Blitz of UC Berkeley is chair of the science steering committee, which also includes the other principal investigators, Anneila Sargent, Lewis Snyder of the University of Illinois, and Stuart Vogel of the University of Maryland. In addition to the board's appointment of Sargent as director, it has also appointed Caltech astronomer Anthony Beasley as CARMA project manager.

As a multi-university facility, CARMA also has a major educational mission. Innovative astronomy and technical development programs will ensure that the next generation of radio astronomers and instrumentalists will receive hands-on training while conducting front-line research. The National Science Foundation has supported both the OVRO and BIMA arrays since their inception, and will continue to support CARMA operations. Construction costs for the new combined array are being divided equally among the NSF, Caltech, and BIMA, and astronomers around the world will have access to the facility.

Written by Robert Tindol

Caltech Media Relations