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This Friday, May 5, astronomers from the University of Maryland, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the California Institute of Technology will dedicate the world's most powerful millimetre-wave-length radio telescope.

Formed from a linked array of 15 radio telescope dishes perched high in the dry desert of eastern California's Inyo Mountains, the Combined Array for Research in Millimetre-wave Astronomy, or CARMA, will give scientists unprecedented power to look across the universe (and back in time) to learn more about the birth of galaxies, stars, planets and even the universe itself.

The official dedication of the Combined Array for Research in Millimetre-Wave Astronomy (CARMA) facility is set for 3 p.m. PDT on Friday, May 5, at Cedar Flat in the Inyo Mountains near Bishop. 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. The project has involved moving the six existing 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) millimetre-wave array, along with the nine 6-meter telescopes at the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) array, to the new Cedar Flat location, about 20 kilometres 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 2,225-metre altitude of the Cedar Flat site.

This CARMA image shows the star-forming region W51, one of the most luminous star-forming complexes known. W51 is giving birth to several massive stars, seen here as the yellow-green highlighted area in centre of image, each more than 10 times the mass of the sun. It is about 7000 parsecs (209 trillion kilometres) from Earth.

Innovative technology and better atmospheric transmission make CARMA a much more powerful instrument than merely the sum of the previous arrays. 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. 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" - Anneila Sargent, Rosen Professor of Astronomy at Caltech.

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."


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