Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools (October 30, 2013)

The Canadian Astronomical Society is pleased to announce the establishment of a new Award, the Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools.

The Dunlap Award is made possible thanks to a generous gift from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto.

The award will be presented in even-numbered years to an individual or team for the design, invention, or improvement of instrumentation or software that has enabled significant advances in astronomy. The nominee, or leader of a nominated team, shall be a member of CASCA and a Canadian astronomer or an astronomer working in Canada.

Nominations for the 2014 Dunlap Award are sollicited at this time and can be tended until 15 January 2015. Details can be found on the Dunlap Award page on the CASCA website: http://casca.ca/?page_id=2724.

In June 2014, CASCA will present the inaugural Dunlap Award at the society’s annual meeting in Quebec City.

 
Contacts:
 
Leslie Sage
CASCA press officer
cascapressofficer@gmail.com
+1 301 675 8957

Chris Sasaki
Communications and New Media Specialist
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
50 St. George Street
Toronto, Canada
M5S 3H4
csasaki@dunlap.utoronto.ca
416 978 6613

Scientific Authorities Sign the TMT Master Agreement (July 25, 2013)

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project announces today that all of the scientific authorities of the TMT partners have signed a Master Agreement. The Master Agreement document establishes a formal agreement amongst the international parties defining the project goals, establishing a governance structure and defining member party rights, obligations and benefits.

TMT is a unique and vibrant collaboration among universities in the United States with institutions in the nations of Canada, China, India and Japan, and with major funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Uniting these various parties under a Master Agreement stands as a significant accomplishment for TMT as a scientific endeavor with global reach.

“The signing of this Master Agreement marks a major milestone in the official commitment to and formalization of this global collaboration, ensuring that the TMT project is on schedule and progressing smoothly,” said Henry Yang, Chair of the TMT Collaborative Board. “We have been working towards this moment for a long time and this is a special day for astronomy’s next-generation observatory.”

The Master Agreement brings together the TMT partners for the purpose of developing, designing, financing, constructing, commissioning, operating and decommissioning a next-generation, thirty meter-class astronomical observatory.

“We are pleased with this vote of confidence from the scientific authorities,” said Edward Stone, Vice Chair of the TMT Board. “Their signing of this Master Agreement is a key endorsement of TMT’s scientific merits as well as the project’s overall implementation plan.”

Looking ahead, the next step will be for the financial authorities of the partners to similarly sign the document and finalize the funding plan.

“With the scientific authorities now all on board, we welcome and look forward to the critical support of the remaining financial authorities in advancing the TMT project,” said Yang.

2013 has been a busy and successful year for TMT, and the signing of the Master Agreement is a major step forward in the creation of a revolutionary astronomical facility. Construction of TMT is planned to begin in April 2014 and TMT is scheduled to begin scientific operations in 2022 on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Signatories of the Master Agreement:

The signatories of the Master Agreement are: Donald E. Brooks, Chair of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) Institutional Council; Jean-Lou Chameau, President of the California Institute of Technology; Masahiko Hayashi, Director General of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ); Dr. P. Sreekumar, Director of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics; Jun Yan, Director General of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) and Mark Yudof, President of the University of California.

Statements from TMT Partners:

“ACURA is pleased to be a partner in signing the Master Agreement as Scientific Authority, and is currently engaged with the National Research Council to discuss moving the project forward for funding in Canada. TMT will be a vital resource for research in Canadian universities. It will deepen our knowledge of many of the major issues in astronomy & astrophysics in ways that would not be possible without such a new generation telescope,” said Ernie Seaquist, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA).

“China is excited to be an active partner of such a world-leading facility, which represents a quantum leap for our community. With yet another major step taken, we look forward to many decades of solving the mysteries of the cosmos from Mauna Kea,” said Jun Yan, Director General of the National Astronomical Observatories of China.

”We are delighted to start contribution to make this scientific enterprise a reality. We believe TMT and Subaru will be a good match to explore many key riddles of the Universe,” said Prof. Masahiko Hayashi, the Director General of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

“TMT-India is extremely happy to participate in the joint signing of the TMT Master Agreement. It is an important milestone in our global endeavor to raise astronomical observations to a new level with the promise of exciting science. With a large number of young students and researchers in our growing academic program, the Indian astronomical community sees the complete realization of the TMT project as an important stimulus to astrophysics research programs in India. We look forward to jointly addressing the next milestone in this program,” said Dr. P. Sreekumar, Director, Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation:

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation believes in bold ideas that create enduring impact in the areas of science, environmental conservation and patient care. Intel co-founder Gordon and his wife Betty established the foundation to create positive change around the world and at home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Science looks for opportunities to transform–or even create–entire fields by investing in early-stage research, emerging fields and top research scientists. Environmental conservation efforts promote sustainability, protect critical ecological systems and align conservation needs with human development. Patient care focuses on eliminating preventable harms and unnecessary healthcare costs through meaningful engagement of patients and their families in a supportive, redesigned healthcare system. Visit us at Moore.org or follow @MooreScientific.

About TMT:

TMT is the next-generation astronomical observatory that is scheduled to begin scientific operations in 2022 on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. TMT is a collaboration of the California Institute of Technology, University of California, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, a consortium of Chinese institutions led by the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and institutions in India supported by the Department of Science and Technology of India. Major funding has been provided by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation. For more information, visit tmt.org , www.facebook.com/TMTHawaii or follow @TMTHawaii.

TMT Media contact:

Gordon K. Squires
TMT Communications & Outreach Lead
squires@tmt.org
626-216-4257

Baby Stars May Grow Massive From Feeding Enabled Collectively By Older Stars

Stars ten times as massive as the Sun, or more, should not exist: as they grow, they tend to push away the gas they feed on, starving their own growth. Scientists have been struggling to figure out how some stars overcome this hurdle.

Now, a group of researchers led by two astronomers at the University of Toronto suggests that baby stars may grow to great mass if they happen to be born within a corral of older stars –with these surrounding stars favorably arranged to confine and thus feed gas to the younger ones in their midst. The astronomers have seen hints of this collective feeding, or technically “convergent constructive feedback,” in a giant cloud of gas and dust called Westerhout 3 (W3), located 6,500 light years from us. Their results are published in The Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, 766, 85), available online at http://stacks.iop.org/0004-637X/766/85.

“This observation may lift the veil on the formation of the most massive stars which remains, so far, poorly understood,” says Alana Rivera-Ingraham, who led the study while she was a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, Canada, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie in Toulouse, France.

To study the formation of high-mass stars, Rivera-Ingraham and collaborators used high-quality and high-resolution far-infrared images from a space telescope launched by the European Space Agency in 2009 —the Herschel Space Observatory. This telescope’s two cameras recorded light that is not visible to the naked eye, spanning a range from infrared radiation partway to the microwave region. Exploiting these cameras, scientists including Peter Martin, Professor in the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, created the HOBYS Key Programme to study the birth of very massive stars in nearby giant clouds of gas and dust in our own Galaxy, including W3. Research on HOBYS at the University of Toronto is supported in part by the Canadian Space Agency and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Scientists track the regions of the gas cloud where stars are about to form by mapping the density of dust and its temperature, looking for the most dense regions where the dust is shielded and cold. “We can now see where stars are about to be born before it even happens, because we can detect the cold dust condensations,” says Martin. “Until Herschel, we could only dream of doing that.”

Stars are born in the denser parts of gas clouds, where the gas gets compressed enough by gravity to trigger nuclear fusion. The more massive the newborn star, the more visible and ultraviolet light it emits, heating up its surroundings —including the dust studied by Herschel.
“The radiation during the birth of high-mass stars is so intense that it tends to destroy and push away the material from which they need to feed for further growth,” says Rivera-Ingraham. Scientists have modeled this process and found that stars about eight times the mass of our Sun would stop growing because they run out of gas.

But astronomers do see stars that are more massive than this theoretical limit. And by looking at W3, Rivera-Ingraham and her collaborators have found clues to how this might be possible.

The researchers noticed that the densest region of the cloud, in the upper left of the image, was surrounded by a congregation of old high-mass stars. It is as if previous generations of large stars enabled the next ones to grow also massive, and close to each other. The scientists suggest that this is no coincidence: each generation of stars might have created the right conditions for another generation to grow comparably or even more massive in its midst, ultimately leading to the formation of a rare, massive cluster of high-mass stars.

Like young high-mass stars, older stars also radiate and push gas away. If such older stars happen to be arranged favorably around a major reservoir of gas, they can compress it enough to ignite new stars. The process is similar to the way a group of street cleaners armed with leaf blowers can stack leaves in a pile —by pushing from all sides at the same time. This corralling of dense gas can give birth to new, high-mass stars. A large newborn star will push its food source away, but if it is surrounded by enough large stars, these can keep nudging gas back at it. With such collective feeding at play, the young star could grow very massive indeed.

Next on the to-do list of the astronomers is to test their idea by simulating the situation with computer modeling, by measuring gas motions, and by comparing their results with data from other giant clouds studied by HOBYS. Only then will they be able to discern the mechanism —collective feeding or not— that gives rise to high-mass stars in these giant clouds.

LINKS:
UofT press release: http://universe.utoronto.ca/embargo/w3
ESA press release: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Herschel/Hunting_high-mass_stars_with_Herschel
Official image and credits: http://oshi.esa.int/image.html?id=96

CONTACTS:
Prof. Peter Martin
Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada
pgmartin@cita.utoronto.ca

Dr. Alana Rivera-Ingraham
Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP)
Toulouse, France
arivera@irap.omp.eu

Johannes Hirn
Outreach and Communications
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada
hirn@di.utoronto.ca
(+1) 416 978 6840

Planck space mission sheds light on the universe’s age, evolution and composition

The best map ever made of the most ancient light in the universe — the remnant radiation left over from the Big Bang some 13 billion years ago — deepens our understanding of the universe.
The highly detailed image of the universe — produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck Space Telescope and the Planck collaboration of international scientists including a team from U of T — reveals that the universe is slightly older, expanding more slowly and has more matter than previously thought.
“For all of us, the magic is how we translate the observations of the spatial patterns in this ‘first light’ of the universe to the structure that must have been there in the earliest moments when our observable universe — currently some giga-giga-giga-metres across — was compressed to smaller than a nano-nano-nano metre across,” said University Professor J. Richard Bond.
Bond and Douglas Scott of the University of British Columbia co-lead a Canadian science team that played a key role in the Planck collaboration. Bond is on the faculty at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics and directs the Cosmology and Gravity Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and the team included astrophysicists at the University of Toronto, University of Alberta, Université Laval and McGill University.
Planck’s evidence confirms and refines previous models of how astronomers believe the universe originated and evolved, but with intriguing new details:

  • The Planck team has calculated that the universe is 13.82 billion years old — 80 million years older than earlier estimates.
  • the Planck Space Telescope has revealed that the universe is expanding slower than the current standard determined with the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • Planck has also allowed cosmologists to confirm the universe’s composition more accurately than ever before: normal matter, the stuff of stars and galaxies like our own Milky Way, makes up just 4.9 per cent of the universe. Dark matter — the presence of which so far has been inferred only through the effects its gravity causes — accounts for 26.8 per cent. Dark energy — a mysterious force that behaves the opposite way to gravity, pushing and expanding our universe — makes up 68.3 per cent of the universe — slightly less than previously thought.

Planck’s precision has also given astrophysicists a number of new puzzles to solve. “For more than three decades, I have been trying to unveil the structure imprinted on the universe from an epoch of accelerated expansion in its earliest moments,” said Bond. “Planck has now shown that the evidence for this early inflation is much stronger than before. The patterns we see are quite simple, resulting in many formerly viable theories falling victim to our Planckian knife. Our maps reveal unexplained, large-scale features that excite the imaginations of physicists who have been eagerly awaiting what Planck has to say about the early universe.”
Launched in 2009, the Planck telescope has been scanning the skies ever since, shedding light on the beginnings of the universe and the birth of stars. The telescope’s incredible accuracy allows it to pinpoint faint, minute patterns — differences in light and temperature that correspond to slightly different densities in the matter left over from the Big Bang.
The data was released today at ESA headquarters in Paris, France and is from the first 15 months of the mission. It shows a map of the universe when it was just 380,000 years old.
“We now have a precise recipe for our universe: how much dark and normal matter it is made of; how fast it is expanding; how lumpy it is and how that lumpiness varies with scale; and how the remnant radiation from the Big Bang is scattered,” said University of British Columbia Professor Douglas Scott. “It is astonishing that the entire universe seems to be describable by a model using just these six quantities. Now, Planck has told us the values of those numbers with even higher accuracy.”
Twenty-eight scientific papers from the Planck mission were will be published tomorrow on-line today covering many aspects of how the universe is put together and how it has evolved. Planck’s instruments allow astronomers to separate the primordial light from the effects of dust and other emissions coming from our Milky Way Galaxy. U of T and CITA astrophysicist Peter Martin is working on a series of papers that will be published in another upcoming release on this data: “We do not simply sweep away the dust signal into the trash bin, but rather treasure it for what it tells us about the workings of the Galaxy. It enables us to discover the evolution of structure in the interstellar medium leading from a diffuse state to star formation in dense molecular clouds,” he said.
Hundreds of astronomers from around the world will continue to study Planck’s data as the telescope continues its observations.
The complete results of the mission are scheduled to be released in 2014.
In addition to Bond and Martin, the current U of T scientists in the Planck mission include CITA’s Mike Nolta and Marc Antoine Miville Deschenes (based in Paris), and Professor Barth Netterfield of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics who led the large software effort at UofT used to check the data as it poured in from the satellite.

The Canadian Space Agency funds two Canadian research teams who are part of the Planck science collaboration, and who helped develop both of Planck’s complementary science instruments, the High Frequency Instrument (HFI) (LINK) and the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI).

Press release issued by the University of Toronto.

Additional Links:

Distant Planetary System is Super-Sized Solar System (March 14, 2013)

TORONTO, ON (11 March 2013) – A team of astronomers, including Quinn Konopacky of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, has made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-like planet beyond our Solar System.

According to Konopacky, “We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of the advanced instrumentation we are using on the Keck II telescope, our ground-breaking observing and data-processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system.”

Konopacky is lead author of the paper describing the team’s findings, to be published March 14th in Science Express, and March 22nd in the journal Science.

The team, using a high-resolution imaging spectrograph called OSIRIS, uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing carbon monoxide and water vapour. “With this level of detail,” says Travis Barman, a Lowell Observatory astronomer and co-author of the paper, “we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the planet’s atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the entire planetary system formed.”

There has been considerable uncertainty about how systems of planets form, with two leading models, called core accretion and gravitational instability. Planetary properties, such as the composition of a planet’s atmosphere, are clues as to whether a system formed according to one model or the other.

“This is the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet,” according to co-author Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “This shows the power of directly imaging a planetary system. It is the exquisite resolution afforded by these new observations that has allowed us to really begin to probe planet formation.”

The spectrum reveals that the carbon to oxygen ratio is consistent with the core accretion scenario, the model thought to explain the formation of our Solar System.

The core accretion model predicts that large gas giant planets form at great distances from the central star, and smaller rocky planets closer in, as in our Solar System. It is rocky planets, not too far, nor close to the star, that are prime candidates for supporting life.

“The results suggest the HR 8799 system is like a scaled-up Solar System,” says Konopacky. “And so, in addition to the gas giants far from their parent star, it would not come as a surprise to find Earth-like planets closer in.”

Konopacky and her team will continue to study the super-sized planets to learn more details about their nature and their atmospheres. Future observations will be made using the recently upgraded OSIRIS instrument which utilizes a new diffraction grating—the key component of the spectrograph that separates light according to wavelength, just like a prism. The new grating was developed at the Dunlap Institute and installed in the spectrograph in December 2012.

“These future observations will tell us much more about the planets in this system,” says Dunlap Fellow Konopacky. “And the more we learn about this distant planetary system, the more we learn about our own.”

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Dr. Quinn Konopacky
Dunlap Fellow
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
e: konopacky@dunlap.utoronto.ca
p: 416-946-5465
www.dunlap.utoronto.ca/
www.di.utoronto.ca/~konopacky

Chris Sasaki
PIO; Communications and New Media Specialist
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
e: csasaki@dunlap.utoronto.ca
p: 416-978-6613

The Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics continues the legacy of the David Dunlap Observatory of developing innovative astronomical instrumentation, including instrumentation for the largest telescopes in the world. The research of its faculty and Dunlap Fellows spans the depths of the Universe, from the discovery of exoplanets, to the formation of stars, the evolution and nature of galaxies, dark matter, the Cosmic Microwave Background, and SETI. The institute also continues a strong commitment to developing the next generation of astronomers and fostering public engagement in science. For more information: www.dunlap.utoronto.ca

Canada Contributes to One of Astronomy’s Most Powerful Telescopes (March 13, 2013)

On March 13 2013, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the largest ground-based astronomical project in the world, will be inaugurated, celebrating ALMA’s transition from a construction project to a full-fledged observatory. The inauguration ceremony will take place at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility (OSF), 34 km from San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile.

 
What is ALMA?
Located at the highest and driest desert in the world (northern Chile), ALMA is one of astronomy’s most powerful telescopes, providing unprecedented imaging capabilities and sensitivity many orders of magnitude greater than anything of its kind today.

The Observatory is comprised of an array of 66 radio antennas that work together as one telescope to study millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelength light from space. These wavelengths, which cross the critical boundary between infrared and microwave radiation, hold the key to understanding such processes as the formation of planets, stars, galaxies, and of organic and other molecules in space.

 
Canada’s Contributions
Ten years ago the National Research Council of Canada agreed to design, develop and deliver seventy-three state-of-the-art receivers, operating at 3mm (100 GHz), as the major part of Canada’s contribution to the C$1.4B international ALMA radio telescope.

NRC Herzberg in Victoria, BC, is one of the few facilities in the world with expertise in superconducting detector technology for millimetre waves. These receivers are of paramount importance to the project because they are used for science applications but also for final adjustment of the antenna surfaces and for regular calibration of the array during operations.

“The receivers contributed by Canada play a critical role in the operation of ALMA. They are expected to lead directly to many discoveries ranging from images of ‘nearby’ planets, stars and gas clouds to the detection of the most distant objects in the Universe – galaxies in the early stages of their formation. They also serve as ‘work horses’ as they are used for all sorts of tests and calibrations of the system,” notes ALMA Deputy Director Lewis Ball.

The University of Calgary and McMaster University received awards from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to fund Canada’s share of the general site infrastructure costs Canadian programmers and astronomers at these universities also contributed to developing specialized code to allow astronomers to acquire and process ALMA data.

 
Can Canadian Astronomers access ALMA?
ALMA observing time is shared between all the participating countries. Canadian astronomers have access to North America’s 37.5% share of ALMA observing time. Astronomers have to submit a proposal to obtain observing time.

 
Canadian Industry Participation
Several Canadian companies provided significant contributions to NRC’s multimillion-dollar receiver program, including Nanowave Technologies of Etobicoke, ON, for the construction of the detector assemblies and the cryogenic low noise amplifiers; Daniels Electronics of Victoria, BC, for materials management and mechanical integrations; and K-Tec Industry and Prototype Equipment Design of British Columbia for providing high precision micro-machined parts. “We believe that the (cryogenic low noise amplifier) technology licensed from NRC could open up new markets for commercial and defence radar and satellite communications” says Dr. Justin Miller, President of Nanowave Technologies.

TeraXion of Quebec City, QC, won the multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory to provide the laser system at the heart of the ALMA signal network between the antennas and supercomputers at the 5,000 m high Array Operations Site on the Chajnantor plateau.

 
Making a Difference
Astronomers from around the world will use these Canadian-made receivers to explore in unmatched detail the evolution of cold gas and dust throughout the Universe. Early observations with the first on line receivers provided new scientific insights and Canadian Project Scientist Christine Wilson of McMaster University comments, “I found it incredibly exciting that the first image published from ALMA used data from the Canadian-built 3mm receivers. The comparison of the new ALMA image with my measurements from a decade ago was absolutely stunning – ALMA did more in 3 hours of observing than we were able to do in 100 hours.”

 
The Partnership
The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

 
What’s Next
Canada’s construction contributions were completed with the delivery of Band 3. Final construction of the ALMA array continues through this calendar year. As of 1 January 2014, ALMA will be considered to be fully completed and in operations, with a focus on commissioning its extensive set of capabilities. A tripartite agreement for operations is currently under development.

 
Contact:
Media Relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
1-855-282-1637
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca@nrc_cnrc

Construction Begins on Canada’s Largest Radio Telescope (January 24, 2013)

Construction is now under way in Penticton, B.C. on Canada’s largest radio telescope – and the first research telescope to be built in the country in more than 30 years.

The new telescope, with a footprint larger than six NHL hockey rinks, will listen for cosmic sound waves and help scientists understand why the universe has expanded rapidly – and learn about the mysterious ‘dark energy’ that is supposedly driving the expansion.

Part of the $11-million Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the radio telescope is being built at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in Penticton B.C. because the area is federally protected from radio interference.

“We plan to map a quarter of the observable universe,” says University of British Columbia astrophysicist Mark Halpern, the project’s principal investigator. “This is an ambitious, made-in-Canada endeavor.”

With no moving parts, the telescope boasts a 100-metre-by-100-metre collecting area filled with 2,560 low-noise receivers built with components adapted from the cell phone industry which, collectively, scan half of the sky every day.

“The CHIME telescope will be the most sensitive instrument in the world for this type of research and the DRAO is one of the best sites in the world for this type of research,” says UBC astrophysicist and project co-investigator Gary Hinshaw, who was in Penticton to witness the groundbreaking of the telescope’s foundation.

“This is something that our community can be really proud of.”

Signals collected by the CHIME telescope will be digitally sampled nearly one billion times per second, then processed to synthesize an image of the sky.

“We live in an expanding universe, and the discovery at the end of the 20th century that the rate of expansion is speeding up, rather than slowing down, has forced us to re-examine basic assumptions about gravity on cosmic scales, and what the universe is made of,” says UBC astrophysicist and CHIME co-investigator Kris Sigurdson.

“It appears to be filled with an exotic substance we call dark energy.”

Adds Halpern: “Data collected by CHIME will help us understand the history of the Universe, and in turn how dark energy has driven its expansion.”

CHIME is funded in part by a $4.6-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Astrophysicists at UBC, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the DRAO are collaborating on the project.

Original Press release available at http://science.ubc.ca/news/679

Photographs from today’s groundbreaking are available at:http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/?p=78185



Press release from the University of Toronto.

TORONTO, ON (Wednesday, January 31, 2013) –

A team of Canadian astrophysicists is set to begin mapping the largest volume of the observable Universe to date. By observing hydrogen gas from seven to ten billion light-years away across a great swath of sky, their goal is to measure the accelerating expansion of the Universe and the force behind that expansion, dark energy.

The team’s work will shed light on the expansion history of the Universe after the inflationary period leading to the Big Bang and the emission of the microwave background, and before the current accelerated expansion.

“By observing the expansion of the Universe, we will be able to make precise measurements of dark energy,” Prof. Ue-Li Pen from the University of Toronto and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) said. “They will allow us to determine whether dark energy is changing with time or whether it is a constant. (And what does this tell us. C.S.)”

The team includes Pen, Prof. Dick Bond of the University of Toronto and CITA, and Prof. Keith Vanderlinde of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, as well as astrophysicists from UBC, McGill and the Dominion Radio Astronomy Observatory (DRAO). The group recently received $4.6 million in funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to build an innovative digital radio telescope at the DRAO in the Okanagan Valley near Penticton, B.C. The instrument is known as the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) and will have a surface area greater than six NHL hockey rinks.

Bond explained, “the origin of accelerated expansion is inextricably tied to how gravity interacts with the ‘vacuum energy’ whose nature has been the greatest mystery in physics for eighty years. For CITA theorists the exciting data that will emerge is a rich treasure trove.”

“This research requires a new kind of telescope, which only recently became possible thanks to the huge growth in computing power,” Vanderlinde said. “CHIME will be the country’s largest radio telescope and survey the sky hundreds of times more efficiently than previous instruments.”

CHIME will chart the expansion beginning in the period when cosmic acceleration appears to have turned on, from something like 11 billion years ago (redshift 2.5) until ~6.5 billion years ago (redshift 0.8) .

The ambition is large. “We’ve been mapping the universe for a hundred years since Edwin Hubble and to date we’ve mapped maybe one per cent of that, and CHIME wants to map about a quarter of the observable universe”, Pen said.

CHIME will use a new technique called Hydrogen Intensity Mapping pioneered by a team led by Pen, which allows a radio telescope to map the structure of the universe in neutral hydrogen gas directly using radio observations, rather than using optical telescopes to methodically catalogue each galaxy. It allows astrophysicists to survey huge volumes of the universe in three dimensions, and for a fraction of the cost of other methods.

“Hydrogen Intensity Mapping will have many applications,” said Vanderlinde, “but the main goal for CHIME is to amass data on the evolution of the universe, to probe what is accelerating its expansion. CHIME promises to reveal cosmic acceleration in unprecedented detail”.

The experiment will use a new hybrid of both digital and analog radio telescope technology. A traditional telescope’s parabolic dish must be pointed. A digital software telescope has no curvature, no preferred direction, and is simultaneously pointed in all directions of the sky at the same time, Pen explained, “which is pretty sweet, obviously”.

CHIME will be built at the Dominion Radio Astronomy Observatory sheltered in the Okanagan Valley near Penticton, British Columbia on a radio-quiet reserve protected from local radio-frequency interference by federal regulation and the surrounding hills. It will be a set of five 100-metre long x 20 metre half-pipes, lying side by side in a 100 metre-square array constructed of metal roofing struts, concrete legs and wire mesh, and will have no moving parts. It will work digitally in the North-South direction along the length of the half pipes, and will work as a traditional analog telescope in the East-West direction. It will scan the sky above it in a line from horizon to horizon as the earth turns every day, and stack the data it collects.

Bond is also and Director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), cosmology and gravity program. He said “the great collaboration of CITA with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Cosmology and Gravity Program and its cross-Canada nodes extends to our CHIME initiative.” The CIFAR Cosmology and Gravity Program members engaged are: two CIFAR Fellows at CITA, Ue-Li Pen and Bond, one Fellow at McGill, Matt Dobbs, two Fellows at UBC, Gary Hinshaw and Mark Halpern and one member of the CIFAR Junior Fellow Academy at the Dunlap Institute and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, U of T, Keith Vanderlinde. As well, CITA Post Doctoral Fellows and graduate students are involved in CHIME research.

The CFI funded CHIME through its Leading Edge Fund which invests in state-of-the-art infrastructure for Canada’s research institutions to attract and retain world-class talent and train a new generation of researchers.

For Further Information contact,
Alison Rose, O.Ont.
Outreach & Communications Coordinator
Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA)
www.cita.utoronto.ca
cell 416-997-1625 aer@cita.utoronto.ca


Chris Sasaki
Communications & New Media Specialist
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
416-978-6613 csasaki@di.utoronto.ca
www.dunlap.utoronto.ca

Additional Resources:

Public Release of SCUBA-2 Commissioning Data (January 15, 2013)

During the astronomical commissioning of SCUBA-2 in 2011, several sources were observed mostly for observing mode testing, array performance improvements and telescope integration. The absolute quality of the data cannot be vouched for, and the weather conditions and the array stability may be variable. Nevertheless, the data are of sufficient quality that they may be of scientific interest to some. As such these data are being publicly released. The catalogue of publicly released SCUBA-2 commissioning data is available via the JCMT Science Archive at the CADC.

Ring Around Andromeda Challenges Galactic Ideas (January 3, 2013)

A surprising discovery about dwarf galaxies orbiting the much larger Andromeda galaxy suggests that conventional ideas regarding the formation of galaxies like our own Milky Way are missing something fundamental.

In a paper published today in the prestigious journal Nature, an international team of astronomers including two University of Victoria professors describes the discovery that almost half of the 30 dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda do so in an enormous plane more than a million light years in diameter, but only 30,000 light years thick.

The findings defied scientists’ expectation—based on two decades of computer modeling—that satellite galaxies would orbit in independent, seemingly random patterns. Instead, many of these dwarf galaxies seem to share a common orbit, an observation that currently has no explanation.

“It’s a very unusual, unexpected configuration,” says UVic astrophysicist Dr. Julio Navarro, a co-author of the paper. “It’s so unexpected that we don’t know yet what it’s telling us. The fact that it is there at all is pointing us toward something profound.”

The paper is based on data collected as part of a project led by UVic adjunct assistant professor Dr. Alan McConnachie, of the National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA) in Saanich. McConnachie, another co-author of the Nature paper, is principal investigator of the Pan Andromeda Archaeological Survey (PAndAS), which used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope between 2008 and 2011. Examination of the data collected provided the first panoramic view of the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way’s nearest galactic companion, and the surprising discovery.

Understanding how and why the dwarf galaxies form the ring around Andromeda is expected to offer new information on the formation of all galaxies.

 
Media Contacts:
Dr. Alan McConnachie (National Research Council of Canada) at 250-363-0070 (alan.mcconnachie@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca)
Dr. Julio Navarro (Faculty of Science) at 250-721-6644 or jfn@uvic.ca
Mitch Wright (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or mwwright@uvic.ca

3D Simulations of Supernova Remnants (November 5, 2012)

An international team of astrophysicists, including Drs. Samar Safi-Harb and Gilles Ferrand at the University of Manitoba (Canada) and Dr. Anne Decourchelle from the CEA Saclay (France), has produced the first 3D simulations of supernova remnants (SNRs) showing the effect of particle acceleration at the wave fronts generated by these powerful X-ray sources in our galaxy. The research has been just published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Safi-Harb notes: “With these simulations, we are generating the first realistic synthetic maps of projected thermal x-ray emission in young SNRs.” Decourchelle adds: “This opens a new way to understand the physics at play by confronting high resolution 3D simulations to detailed X-ray observations of SNRs.”

They note that the results will impact on astrophysicists’ interpretations of high-resolution x-ray observations, such as those currently underway using the orbiting Chandra and XMM-Newton x-ray observatories (launched in 1999 by NASA and ESA, respectively), or those planned with Astro-H (slated for launch by JAXA in 2014).

One hundred years ago, Austrian physicist Victor Hess detected cosmic rays using a high-altitude balloon. Their origin has been a puzzle since then, but astronomers have suggested that most of these particles are accelerated by fast-moving shock waves triggered by supernova explosions. Recent x-ray and gamma-ray studies have supported this theory, but astrophysicists are not sure if protons (which make the bulk of the cosmic rays population) are also accelerated and to what energy levels. Since magnetic fields affect the flight of cosmic rays, they arrive on earth from all directions, making it difficult to determine their origin.

It is, however, possible to observe their likely sources in the galaxy: the SNRs, and look for signatures of their presence. The new simulations show how the efficient acceleration of particles at the shock affects both the shape and the level of x-ray emission from SNRs.

Ferrand, lead author of the paper, says: “These 3D simulations, the first of their kind, will help us to unveil the presence of very energetic protons in young SNRs.”

This research was made possible by using a computer cluster devoted to these unique simulations and funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, as well as a supercomputer at CEA/CCRT in France. It was also supported by funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Canada Research Chair program, the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) and the French National Research Agency (ANR).

For more information, please contact Samar Safi-Harb, Canada Research Chair in Supernova Astrophysics, University of Manitoba, at: 204-474-7104, or email: samar.safi-harb@ad.umanitoba.ca

In France, contact: Anne Decourchelle, 33 2 69 08 43 84, or email: anne.decourchelle@cea.fr