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Waterloo joins consortium building the world’s best submillimeter-surveyor telescope

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A team of Canadian, American, and German scientists announced construction will soon begin on the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope-prime (CCAT-p). The unique and powerful telescope designed to map the sky in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths will provide unprecedented insights into how stars and galaxies form, the Cosmic Microwave Background, and the formation and dark-energy-driven expansion of the universe.

Michel Fich, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo, is leading the Canadian portion of the project known as the Canadian Atacama Telescope Consortium (CATC), which includes over 40 researchers from 12 universities across Canada. They will be using CCAT-p to make fundamental discoveries about the nature of dark matter, dark energy, and how the Universe began and evolved 10 to 13 billion years ago.

“The Canadian team is excited to be a part of the CCAT-p project,” said Fich. “We joined together with our international partners several years ago when this incredible site in Chile became available for astronomical observing, empowering us to do research that is not possible anywhere else on the Earth.”

Scheduled for completion by 2021, the CCAT-p will be built 5600 metres above sea level at the summit of Cerro Chajnantor in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

The 6-meter aperture telescope is designed to operate at wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves. Water vapour in the Earth’s atmosphere normally blocks our view in this range, but the extremely high altitude and low water vapour content of the atmosphere at Cerro Chajnantor will allow scientists to make nearly unimpeded observations year-round.

The location combined with the telescope’s novel optical design and high precision mirrors will establish the CCAT-p as a premiere facility for astrophysics and cosmology research.

The project is led by Cornell University in partnership with the Canadian team and with the Universities of Bonn and Cologne. Faculty and staff from several Chilean universities are also involved in the science planning and development.

About the University of Waterloo

In just half a century, the University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's technology hub, has become one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities with 35,000 full- and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Waterloo, as home to the world's largest post-secondary co-operative education program, embraces its connections to the world and encourages enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. In the next decade, the university is committed to building a better future for Canada and the world by championing innovation and collaboration to create solutions relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow. For more information about Waterloo, please visit


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