News At Pic de Bure, the European radio telescope Noema reaches full power

The installation of twelve new antennas, inaugurated on September 30, makes the Noema radio telescope possible. Installed on the Bure plateau in the Hautes Alpes, it enables the equipment to become the most powerful millimeter radio telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. The result of a collaboration between CNRS, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and Instituto Geográfico Nacional ( Spain). the radio telescope built and managed by the Institute of Millimetric Radio Astronomy (Iram) is poised to perform unprecedented observations.

The observatory Noah was inaugurated on September 30 in the presence of Antoine Petit, President and CEO of CNRS, Martin Stratmann, President of MPG, Rafael Bachiller, Director of National Astronomical Observatory of’IGNKarl Schuster, Director of Iram, Stéphane Guilloteau, Chairman of the Iram Steering Committee, and Reinhard Genzel, 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics and member of the Iram Steering Committee.

Two of the twelve antennas on the Noema radio telescope.
© Jeff GRAPHY/IRAM

After the inauguration of its first antenna in 2014, the radio telescope is equipped with twelve 15-meter antennas that can be moved on paths of up to 1.7 kilometers, a unique tool for astronomy research. Its resolving power and the sensitivity of the grating allow it to collect light that has traveled up to 13 billion years to reach Earth.

This commissioning crowns more than 40 years of European scientific cooperation. Founded in 1979 by the French CNRS and the German MPG, in 1990 joined by the Spanish IGN, Iram (headquarters is in Grenoble), is one of the world leaders in millimeter radio astronomy . It is now the most powerful millimeter radio telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. Millimeter radio astronomy studies light whose wavelength is of the order of magnitude of the millimeter. Each cosmic object emits different categories of light depending on its age, its composition and its temperature: to obtain a complete picture of an object, modern astronomy combines observations from different wavelengths, all complementary to each other

Noema’s antennas are equipped with receivers with very high sensitivity, close to quantum limits. They work in a network by interferometry: the signals received by all antennas oriented to the same area in space are combined, and their resolving power is then that of a huge telescope, which would have the same diameter as if it included them all.

By changing the configuration of the antennas, astronomers can “zoom in” on a celestial object. Configurations can span distances from a few hundred meters to now 1.7 km. The network works like a vari-lens camera. The larger the configuration, the more powerful the zoom: Noema’s maximum spatial resolution is so high that it would be able to distinguish a mobile phone from more than 500 kilometers away.

Noema is one of the few radio observatories in the world that can simultaneously measure a large number of signatures of molecules and atoms. These new observational possibilities, combined with its high sensitivity and very high spectral and spatial resolution, make Noema a unique instrument for understanding the complexity of interstellar matter and the constituents of the cosmos.

In addition to French, German and Spanish scientists, Iram supports more than 5,000 researchers from around the world.

radio telescope
The spiral galaxy IC342 in the constellation Giraffe. Noema revealed the presence of molecular gas throughout the many spirals and filaments, proving that the galaxy is dotted with intense bursts of star formation.
© IRAM/VLA/Mayall/DSS2/A. Screw

They can thus study the cold matter in the cosmos, just a few degrees above absolute zero. They can study the formation, composition and dynamics of entire galaxies, stars in formation and at the end of their lives, comets or the environment of black holes. Noema is the cause of great discoveries. The radio telescope observed the most distant galaxy known to date, formed shortly after the Big Bang (more than 13 billion years). He recently measured the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation at a very early time in the universe, a first that will make it possible to trace and better constrain the effects of dark energy. In 2022, Noema discovered the first example of a rapidly growing black hole in the dusty core of a shooting star galaxy, at one point close to the oldest known supermassive black hole in the universe. The observatory is the starting point for the latest discoveries of molecules in disks around young stars, veritable cradles of planet formation.

radio telescope
The Noema observatory, equipped with a network of twelve radio antennas.
© Jérémie BOISSIER/IRAM/CNRS PHOTO LIBRARY

Noema is also part of the consortium Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which published in 2019 the first image of a black hole as well as in early 2022 the image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. It made its first observations for the collaboration in 2021 and then 2022. With its twelve extremely sensitive antennas, it offers the global EHT network unprecedented spatial resolution and sensitivity. Next to Iram’s second radio telescope, the 30-meter long one installed in Spain, Noema will allow EHT to make animations with even more precise details. Both facilities are crucial for the EHT collaboration, for the study and for the understanding of the physics of black holes. 2-

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