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

Photographs from today’s groundbreaking are available at:

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)
cell 416-997-1625

Chris Sasaki
Communications & New Media Specialist
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics

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 (
Dr. Julio Navarro (Faculty of Science) at 250-721-6644 or
Mitch Wright (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or