ALMA Matters

From/de Gerald Schieven
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2016)

Cycle 4 Call for Proposals

On March 22, the JAO will issue a call for ALMA proposals for Cycle 4, with observations starting 4 October 2016 and running through to the end of September 2017. The proposal deadline is 21 April. Several new capabilities are being offered in Cycle 4, including mm-wave VLBI, solar observing, stand-alone Atacama Compact Array (ACA) proposals, and long-term proposals (>50h). Check the Proposer’s Guide available from the ALMA Science Portal for the full list of capabilities and details about proposing.

Those who would like an in-depth introduction to proposing with ALMA may wish to attend one of the workshops being held March 31 at McMaster University and April 8 at DAO in Victoria. See the next item for more information.

ALMA Days Workshops

The Millimetre Astronomy Group (MAG) at NRC, in their capacity as members of the NAASC supporting ALMA users in North America, will host two “ALMA Days” prior to the Cycle 4 ALMA proposal deadline (21 April 2016). These follow a very successful NRAO Live! event at McGill University in Montreal run by NRAO’s NAASC members with assistance from Brenda Matthews from the MAG. In the coming weeks, members of the MAG will provide 1-day workshops at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON (31 March) and at DAO in Victoria, BC (8 April) to assist those planning ALMA proposals. The focus will be on presenting the ALMA facility, new capabilities and changes to previous modes for Cycle 4, the Observing Tool and using ALMA simulators.

Participants should bring a laptop with the ALMA OT (and CASA — the ALMA DR software — if they wish to test the simulator) installed.

Topics to be covered include:

  • ALMA Overview + Cycle 4 Capabilities
  • Basics of Radio Interferometry
  • The Proposal Process and the Path of ALMA Observations
  • Overview of the ALMA OT
  • Hands-on Session with the OT for proposal preparation
  • The ALMA Simulator Tool in CASA

Those interested in attending should communicate with Brenda Matthews (brenda.matthews@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca).

Forum on Canadian Future of Ground-Based Submm Astronomy, Friday June 3 in Winnipeg

ALMA is now approaching full operations and many members of our Canadian community have applied to and used this facility to further their research goals. At the same time, several groups in Canada are actively involved in ALMA Development opportunities to further the scientific capabilities of this ground-breaking facility (see two reports below). Our community faces a less certain future regarding access to single dish facilities, however. There continues to be uncertainty around CCAT’s schedule and funding status. These difficulties are having an impact on CCAT’s design (such as removing the enclosure) that may affect the potential science of this planned facility. Many researchers in the Canadian community continue to work to maintain Canada’s status in the CCAT project. At the same time, our access to the EAO-operated JCMT has an indeterminate future beyond Jan 31 2017. Access to PI time on the JCMT is open for now to all members of the Canadian community, and many members of the community are involved in the new wave of large surveys with the JCMT. The amount of PI time however is limited. NRC is no longer involved in the management of the JCMT on behalf of the Canadian community, but those actively utilizing JCMT for their science are exploring avenues to provide new instrumentation to the facility.

Given the recommendation of the MTR panel, specifically: “Recommendation: The MTRP reaffirms the importance of next generation single-dish sub-mm facilities, and recommends that Canadian astronomers continue to pursue participation in CCAT, subject to the project meeting its original science goals”, the timing is right for the community to have a frank and open discussion about access to CCAT and JCMT, the timelines for each, and the distribution of effort to ALMA and either or both of these single dish facilities.

Interested members of the community are therefore invited to a face-to-face meeting on the “Status and Future of ground-based submillimetre astronomy in Canada” to follow the CASCA AGM on Friday, 3 June 2016. We will hold the meeting in the CASCA meeting venue from 9am to 12:30pm. The agenda is not yet decided, but we will ask for updates on the three facilities and have lots of time for discussion. There is no charge to attend. We do ask those planning to attend to indicate their interest via email to Erik Rosolowsky (rosolowsky@ualberta.ca) by 27 May 2016.

Call for Development Study Proposals

All interested parties within the North American ALMA partnership are invited to submit proposals for “Development Studies of Upgrades for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)”. Proposals are due 2 May, 2016. Full information about this call, and the level of funding available, can be found at the following link:
science.nrao.edu/facilities/alma/alma-development-cycle4/call-for-proposals-study

This Call is to invite proposals to conduct studies of ideas that may be further developed and implemented in a subsequent funding cycle. The primary aims of this Call for Project Proposals are to:

  • encourage the flow of development ideas from the North American ALMA operations community into the ALMA Development Program Plan;
  • support the development of conceptual and detailed designs by the North American ALMA operations community for possible future inclusion in the ALMA Development Program Plan; and
  • support ALMA-relevant, long-term research and development by the North American operations community.

For examples of ALMA Development Projects that began as Development Studies, see the next two items on CARTA and on Band 3 upgrades.

CARTA – An ALMA Data Analysis and Visualization Tool

Through the ALMA Development Program, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary are collaborating with NRAO to create CARTA — the Cube Analysis and Rendering Tool for Astronomy. CARTA is a visualization project that aims to provide the functionality of the CASA viewer combined with the stability and performance that comes with a modern application. Currently, the CARTA project has developed the core application and is rapidly implementing new features to deliver the tools that radio astronomy users need. The CARTA project will deliver the software to the ALMA project on Sept. 1st where it will become part of the CASA software package. If you would like to participate in the beta testing of CARTA, please contact Erik Rosolowsky (rosolowsky+carta@ualberta.ca) or visit our webpage to download a beta version.

Band 3 Cartridge Upgrades

Over the past few years, the Millimetre Instrumentation Group at NRC Herzberg in Victoria has been developing and testing options for improving the stability of the Band 3 receivers on ALMA. The solution adopted, block heaters for on-demand magnetic field defluxing of the SIS mixers, has been implemented and validated on one cartridge which has now arrived in Chile. Over the next few years, this upgrade should be gradually applied to all Band 3 cartridges as the Front End cryostats cycle through the ALMA laboratory for routine maintenance. This should result in improved power stability with an additional small enhancement in sensitivity.

ALMA Instructional Videos

The NRC MAG has been producing instructional videos for ALMA. The most recent is a short (6 minute) film on using single-dish data to estimate ALMA sensitivity requirements. An earlier video explores what “Largest Angular Structure” and “Maximum Recoverable Scale” mean.

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