David Aguilar
(617) 495-7462

Christine Pulliam
(617) 495-7463


CfA Press Release
 Release No.: 02-22
For Release: October 28, 2002

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 space.

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

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