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UC Berkeley Press Release

New CARMA radio telescope array will combine UC Berkeley, Caltech arrays

– Astronomers broke ground Saturday, March 27, for a 15-dish radio telescope array to be installed this year east of the Sierra Nevada at a site called Cedar Flat in the Inyo Mountains near Bishop, Calif.

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA) facility is a joint venture of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Maryland. Creating the new CARMA site will involve moving the nine 6-meter telescopes of the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) array in Hat Creek, along with the six existing 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) millimeter-wave array, to the new Cedar Flat location.

"The great advantage of CARMA is it will provide us more sensitivity on all scales, and it will give us better imaging quality than even the Caltech Owens Valley array or our BIMA array alone," said Leo Blitz, professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley and director of the Radio Astronomy Laboratory. "Also, since we are a teaching institution, the new array will allow us to continue to train the next generation of people who work in millimeter-wave astronomy, designing and building the instrumentation."

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, said 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," 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 millimeter-wavelength range is ideal for studying the gas and dust around forming stars, both in our own galaxy and in distant galaxies, Blitz said.
"We are able to see right down to the cores where stars are actually forming," he said. "We will have the power to resolve the disks of dust and gas that surround stars and that ultimately become solar systems around other stars."

Millimeter-wave astronomy also is ideal for the study of molecular clouds - Blitz's particular interest - which are active sites of star formation.

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. 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 (NSF) 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. The nine dishes of the BIMA array, now at Hat Creek north of Mt. Lassen in northern California, will be taken apart and trucked to Cedar Flat sometime this fall.