Press Release

SMA Dedication Opens Elusive Frontier For Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
November 24, 2003
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SMA Dedication Opens Elusive Frontier For Exploration
sma

Hilo, Hawaii — Today, one of astronomy’s most elusive frontiers in
understanding the secrets of the universe was opened wide with the dedication of
the Submillimeter Array (SMA) on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The SMA is the
world’s first imaging telescope array that views the universe at submillimeter
wavelengths. It will offer unprecedentedly sharp views of the cold and dusty
regions of the universe, including locations where stars and planets are being
formed.

"A lot of people have worked long, hard hours over the past twelve years to
create this innovative new telescope. Now, the SMA will enable astronomers to
study the cosmos in completely new and unique ways, and to discover new
properties of the universe," says SMA Director Jim Moran.

The SMA has three key advantages in studying submillimeter wavelengths of light
(light with wavelengths between 1/20 and 1/100 inch). First, the use of an
interferometric array will provide detailed, high-resolution views of the
universe. The SMA is comprised of eight 20-foot-diameter antennas that function
as one giant telescope. At their widest separation, the SMA antennas can provide
views as detailed as a single telescope 1,600 feet in diameter. Such high
resolution, equivalent to that of the giant Keck telescopes in the optical
regime, will enable astronomers to study diverse environments impossible to
reach with visible-light telescopes.

The SMA’s second advantage is its precisely shaped antennas and highly sensitive
detectors, which will collect faint submillimeter light with great efficiency.
The third crucial advantage is the SMA’s location nearly 14,000 feet above sea
level atop Mauna Kea, above most of the atmosphere and water vapor that absorb
incoming submillimeter energy.

"With its exceptional resolving power, extraordinary sensitivity, and ideal
location, the SMA is destined to provide unprecedented insights into the
universe," says Antony Schinckel, SMA Director of Operations. "The SMA will
allow us to peek into hidden regions of galaxies spanning the entire history of
the universe, and image physical processes which have been impossible to view
until now."

The first scientific paper based on SMA observations was published earlier this
year in the March 20, 2003 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. It
reported on the flaring emission from the radio source surrounding the black
hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Those observations were only a taste
of what will come. Researchers will use the SMA to study the cold and dusty
areas of our Galaxy where stars form, to monitor the weather on Mars and other
planets and moons, and to study other galaxies throughout the universe.

Astronomers will peer into star-forming regions to learn how gas clouds collapse
to form new stars and how those stars grow and mature. They will examine the
disks of matter surrounding these newborn stars (from which new planets form) to
gain an understanding of the planet-building process, allowing astronomers to
better predict whether life-bearing worlds like Earth exist elsewhere in our
Galaxy and where we should look for them. And, they will look into the distant
past to study the first generation of galaxies formed after the Big Bang, whose
light has been stretched and reddened by the expansion of billions of
light-years of intervening space.

In conjunction with the dedication of the new telescope, the SMA also celebrated
the completion of its new Operations and Support Facility in Hilo, Hawaii. The
new facility provides offices; laboratories for the development and maintenance
of instrumentation for the SMA; and a remote operations room from which the
entire telescope can be operated, freeing the astronomers and technicians from
the demanding environment of the 13,600-foot high Observatory. This 18,000
square-foot building in the Research Park of the University of Hawaii at Hilo
was designed by Urban Works, Inc. of Honolulu and was built by Taisei
Construction Corporation.

The SMA is a collaborative project of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
(SAO) and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in
Taiwan. ASIAA contributed two antennas and the associated electronics. The
University of Hawaii provided the site and assisted with the local arrangements.
The three organizations will share the scientific use of the SMA.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into
six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the
universe.

NOTE TO EDITORS:

An image associated with this release is available at:
http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/press/pr0324image.html

SpaceRef staff editor.