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- Two of the twelve antennas on the Noema radio telescope. © Jeff GRAPHY/IRAM
The Noema radio telescope, installed in the French Alps, has just reached its full capacity, becoming the most powerful millimetric radio telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the result of a collaboration between CNRS, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG, Germany) and Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN, Spain). Built and managed by the Institute of Millimetric Radio Astronomy (Iram) and already at the beginning of major discoveries, Noema is now ready to perform unprecedented observations.
- The Noema observatory, equipped with a network of twelve radio antennas. © Jérémie Boissier/Iram/CNRS Photo Library
Eight years after the inauguration of its first department in 2014, this major project is now complete. With twelve 15-meter antennas that can be moved over tracks of up to 1.7 kilometers,  is a unique new tool for astronomy research. Its resolving power, along with the sensitivity of the grating, allows researchers to collect light that has traveled up to 13 billion years to reach Earth.
It is the culmination of more than 40 years of European scientific cooperation. Founded in 1979 by the French CNRS and the German MPG, joined in 1990 by the Spanish IGN, IRAM is a world leader in millimeter radio astronomy  and Noema now his instrument of excellence. It is now the most powerful millimeter radio telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.
Noema’s antennas are equipped with receivers with very high sensitivity, close to quantum limits. They operate in a network with a technique called interferometry: after directing all the antennas to the same area in space, the signals they receive are combined thanks to a supercomputer, and their resolving power is then that of a huge telescope that would having the same diameter as if it included them all.
By changing the configuration of the antennas, astronomers can “zoom in” on a celestial object to observe its details. Configurations can span distances from a few hundred meters to now 1.7 km and the network thus functions as a variable 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.
Equipped with cutting-edge technologies, it is one of the few radio observatories in the world that can simultaneously measure a large number of signatures of molecules and atoms – the researchers call this multi-line observations. 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.
Noema offers French, German and Spanish researchers privileged access and the opportunity to carry out unique research. In total, Iram supports more than 5,000 researchers from all over the world who carry out their research with this radio telescope. It allows them to study the cold matter of the cosmos, just a few degrees above absolute zero. With its antennas, we can study the formation, composition and dynamics of entire galaxies, but also of stars in formation and at the end of their lives, comets or the environment of black holes, to solve the most important questions. modern astronomy.
- 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
In addition, Noema is the source of great discoveries and has already delivered sensational results. For example, he observed the most distant galaxy ever formed shortly after the Big Bang and recently measured the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation at a very early stage of the universe, a first that will allow tracking and better limiting its effects of dark energy. Also this year, 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 also behind the latest discoveries of molecules in disks around young stars, true cradles of planet formation.
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.
The observatory will be inaugurated on September 30, 2022 in the presence of Antoine Petit, President and CEO of CNRS, Martin Stratmann, President of MPG, Rafael Bachiller, Director of Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de l’IGN, Karl 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.
CNRS source writing