Waterloo joins consortium building the world's best submillimetre-surveyor telescope

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

An international team will soon begin building the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope-prime (CCAT-p). The unique and powerful telescope designed to map the sky in the millimetre and submillimetre 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 FichMichel 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 more than 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.

CCAT-prime will be built near the top of Cerro Chajnantor at 5600 meters elevation.CCAT-prime will be built near the top of Cerro Chajnantor in the Atacama Desert, 5600 metres above sea level.

The 6-metre 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.