A New Partnership for a New Age of Discovery inAstronomy
TAIWAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE JOINS UNIQUE SUBMILLIMETER TELESCOPE ARRAY PROJECT
Honolulu, HI--The Submillimeter Array, a uniqueastronomical instrument now being built on MaunaKea, was formally launched today on "a grandadventure of discovery" with the joining ofTaiwan's Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysicsin a partnership with the SmithsonianInstitution's Astrophysical Observatory and theUniversity of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.
An agreement signed in Honolulu by I. MichaelHeyman, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,and Dr.Yuan-Tseh Lee, President of the AcademiaSinica of Taiwan, links the research units oftheir respective organizations in a scientificcollaboration that promises new insights onquestions of star birth, galaxy formation, and thephysics of distant quasars.
"Instruments such as the Submillimeter Array havethe potential for making the next decade a goldenage of cosmic discovery, " Heyman remarked at thesigning ceremony at the University of Hawaii'sInstitute for Astronomy. "We are extremely pleased that the Academia Sinica can join us forthe grand adventure of exploring one ofastronomy's last frontiers. "
"Astronomy is a field in which the Chinese peoplemade great contributions in the past," Dr. Leenoted in response. "The Academia Sinica'sparticipation in this project marks the resumptionof this noble endeavor. We are happy to join theinternational effort to advance our knowledge inastronomy."
The Submillimeter Array (SMA), now underconstruction at a site within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, will consist of movable antennas,each 6-meters in diameter and capable of beingpositioned by a wheeled transporter to create aninterferometer with various configurations. Whenplaced at their widest separation, the individualelements act like a single giant instrument 460meters (1500 feet) in diameter.
Under the terms of today's agreement, theTaiwanese institute will provide two antennas,with receivers and associated electronics, toaugment the six already under development by SAO. The additional elements of this instrument areexpected to come on-line by the turn of thecentury, one or two years after the initial sixare installed. Due to the unique way aninterferometer operates, that is, with individualantennas actually forming a single largetelescope, two additional elements essentiallydouble the speed with which astronomers can mapastronomical objects under observation.
"If you consider how much demand there is forobserving time on large instruments of this type,this will effectively double the research one cando," explains Paul Ho, a Smithsonian radioastronomer and a frequent collaborator withcolleagues in Taiwan. "The addition of multipleelements also greatly increases the overallsensitivity of the array so that we can seedistant objects in even finer detail."
Using optical fibers to feed the radiationreceived by each of the antennas to a centralfocus where a correlator will combine andintegrate the signal, the SMA will produce imageswith a resolution comparable to the best opticaltelescopes and more than ten times that of anyexisting single-dish submillimeter telescope.
The contribution to the SMA instrument byTaiwan's Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysicswill be about $8 million for capital expenditures,representing approximately 15 percent of the totalcost, plus a similar fraction of ongoing operating costs. Taiwanese astronomers will beawarded the same proportion of research time onthe array.
The two additional elements will be built inTaiwan and scientists and engineers from Taiwan'sInstitute of Astronomy and Astrophysics havealready visited SAO's receiver laboratory andantenna assembly and test facility inMassachusetts to work out details of integratingtheir units with those produced by theSmithsonian.
The submillimeter region of the electromagneticspectrum has been called "the final frontier" ofground-based astronomy. Comprising wavelengthsbetween radio and infrared frequencies, thesubmillimeter region has remained largelyunexplored because the technology to produce theprecisely shaped antennas and highly sensitivereceivers needed for its detection did not existuntil early this decade.
"We will use the SMA to probe the murky dustclouds of the Milky Way where stars are born, peerinto the hearts of distant exploding galaxies, andstudy cool faint objects of our solar system,including planets and comets, " says IrwinShapiro, director of the Smithsonian AstrophysicalObservatory.
Ground was broken for the SMA one year ago (June8, 1995) at a site just below the summit of MaunaKea. A system of widely spaced concrete padslinked by unpaved service roads which allowreconfiguration of the separate elements has beenconstructed. Completion of the SMA's control building is expected by the end of this summer. The first elements in the array should arrive fortesting next year, with full operations expectedby l999.
The Smithsonian has already established a fieldoffice in Hilo. Eventually, the SMA will have apermanent staff of some 25 people, many hiredlocally, and the instrument is expected toattract scores of visiting investigators fromthe Academia Sinica and Smithsonian as well asother institutions around the world.
"Taiwan astronomers are thrilled by theopportunity to use the Submillimeter Array and towork at one of the world's foremost observingfacilities," says Dr. Chi Yuan, Director of theAcademia Sinica's Institute of Astronomy andAstrophysics. "We are very proud to join in theexciting research conducted atop Mauna Kea."
"We are delighted to welcome our colleagues fromTaiwan to the international community ofastronomers drawn to the Big Island of Hawaii,"says Don Hall, director of the University ofHawaii's Institute for Astronomy. " The mountain'shigh, dry atmosphere is absolutely essential forsubmillimeter astronomy, and has attracted theworld's first two large, single-dish millimeter/submillimeter telescopes, the James Clerk MaxwellTelescope and the Caltech SubmillimeterObservatory, both of which went into operationless than a decade ago."
"We, at the University of Hawaii, look withanticipation to this next major step inmillimeter/ submillimeter astronomy," Hall added.
The SMA signing ceremony was held at 5:00 PM (Hawaiian Time), Monday, June 17, 1996, in theAstronomy Library of the Institute for Astronomy,University of Hawaii, 2680 Woodlawn Drive,Honolulu (off campus in Manoa Valley). Inaddition to Secretary Heyman and Dr. Lee, otherguests included the Honorable Benjamin J.Cayetano, Governor of the State of Hawaii; theHonorable Mazie K. Hirono, Lieutenant Governor ofHawaii; Joseph F. Bianco, Chairman of theUniversity of Hawaii Board of Regents; Dr. Dean O.Smith, University of Hawaii Senior Vice Presidentfor Research and Graduate Education; Dr. Donald N.B. Hall, Director of the University of Hawaii'sInstitute for Astronomy; Dr. Chi Yuan, Director ofthe Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics of theAcademia Sinica; and Dr. Typhoon Lee, Leader ofthe Taiwan Submillimeter Array Project; as wellas other representatives of the SmithsonianAstrophysical Observatory, Academia Sinica, andthe Taipei Economic and Cultural Office inHonolulu.
A reception sponsored by the Academia Sinica andTaipei Economic and Cultural Office was heldin the Courtyard of the Institute for Astronomyimmediately following the signing ceremony.
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