Groundbreaking Held in Hilo for SMA Operations Facility
Today, Hawaii officials joined astronomers for a groundbreaking at
the site of the new SMA Hilo Operations Facility. This building will
be a state-of-the-art facility to provide support for the
Submillimeter Array (SMA) on Mauna Kea. The SMA is the world's first
imaging array at submillimeter wavelengths, and is a project of the
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) and the Academia Sinica
Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan.
The SMA will offer extraordinarily detailed views of the cosmos,
allowing astronomers to study diverse environments impossible to
reach with visible-light telescopes. They will peer into regions
cloaked by dust to learn how stars grow and mature. They will examine
the disks of matter surrounding these newborn stars 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
The SMA represents cutting-edge technology for studying the universe
in invisible wavelengths of light. It images the sky in the
"submillimeter" band of the electromagnetic spectrum (between visible
and radio wavelengths). It acts like a new pair of alien eyes seeing
the universe as it has never been seen before. The antenna array
operates as an interferometer - signals from separate antennas are
combined to achieve the resolving power of a much larger telescope,
similar to the well-known Very Large Array in New Mexico. However, it
is the first time that a dedicated imaging interferometer has been
constructed to study the exciting new band of submillimeter radiation.
The Hilo facility will provide offices for astronomers, engineers,
technicians and administrative staff, as well as postdoctoral fellows
and students. Workshops and laboratory space will allow for the local
maintenance and development of instrumentation for the observatory.
In addition, a remote operations center will allow the SMA to be
operated fully remotely from Hilo, freeing astronomers and
technicians from working in the demanding environment of the nearly
14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea.
The 18,000 square foot, two-story building was designed by Urban
Works and is being built by Taisei Construction Corporation.
Completion is scheduled for late 2003.
For more information, contact:
David A. Aguilar
Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics