PASADENA, Calif.—The official dedication of the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA) facility was held Friday, 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 Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Maryland. The project has involved moving the six existing 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (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, about 13 miles east of Big Pine by mountain route.
According to Anneila Sargent, CARMA director, the new facility will give radio astronomers an extremely clear view of the universe due to the dry air and 7,300-foot altitude of the Cedar Flat site.
Inovative technology and better atmospheric transmission make CARMA a much more powerful instrument than merely the sum of the previous arrays, said Sargent, who is Rosen 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," Sargent said. "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 is 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 scientists from Caltech and from BIMA.
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 frontline 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.
Sargent says that funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Norris Foundation have also been crucial. "We're especially grateful for their getting us started."
Written by Robert Tindol