The Cosmic Background Imager was put into service in 2000 at Llano de Chajnantor, a high plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It was the result of collaboration between the United States, Canada and Chile. The Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics is responsible for Canada’s participation in the observatory.

The goal of the Imager is to make a map of the distribution of cosmic background radiation, microwave radiation that represents the aftermath of the Big Bang, the great explosion that gave birth to the Universe.

The cosmic background radiation being mapped by the Imager was produced only 400,000 years after the Big Bang when the Universe first became transparent and luminous. The Imager is thus studying the oldest light energy ever emitted. Dome

Mapping the distribution of this ancient light – this ancient radiation – effectively allows researchers to “see” what the Universe looked like very shortly after its birth. This information is extremely important because it helps them better understand the creation, organization and evolution of large structures in the cosmos, such as galaxy clusters. Read More
The Cosmic Background Imager was put into service in 2000 at Llano de Chajnantor, a high plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It was the result of collaboration between the United States, Canada and Chile. The Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics is responsible for Canada’s participation in the observatory.

The goal of the Imager is to make a map of the distribution of cosmic background radiation, microwave radiation that represents the aftermath of the Big Bang, the great explosion that gave birth to the Universe.

The cosmic background radiation being mapped by the Imager was produced only 400,000 years after the Big Bang when the Universe first became transparent and luminous. The Imager is thus studying the oldest light energy ever emitted. Dome

Mapping the distribution of this ancient light – this ancient radiation – effectively allows researchers to “see” what the Universe looked like very shortly after its birth. This information is extremely important because it helps them better understand the creation, organization and evolution of large structures in the cosmos, such as galaxy clusters.

The observatory’s telescope operates at wavelengths between 0.83 and 1.15 centimetres, which corresponds to the field of microwaves. It consists of 13 parabolic antennas mounted on a platform measuring six metres in diameter that can be pointed anywhere in the sky. Each antenna is 90 centimetres across and is lodged in a protective cylinder sealed with a Teflon cover that can transmit microwaves.

In 2002, the telescope detected a pattern in the distribution of background cosmic radiation that revealed structures much smaller than any observed to date. Researchers also detected a second pattern that could provide new information about the movement of matter shortly after the Big Bang.

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Colour photo of the Cosmic Background Imager

Cosmic Background Imager.

California Institute of Technology

© US National Science Foundation


Colour photo of the Dome of the Cosmic Background Imager

Dome of the Cosmic Background Imager.

Cosmic Background Imager
California Institute of Technology, http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~tjp/CBI/

© US National Science Foundation


The Atacama Large Millimeter Array will be inaugurated in 2011 at Llano de Chajnantor, a high plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The array should be usable for scientific purposes before its completion, starting in 2007.

The creation of the array is the result of collaboration between Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan and Chile. The National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics is responsible for Canada’s participation in the radio telescope.

The array consists of 62 parabolic antennas measuring 12 metres across and spread out over 14 kilometres in the desert. They will operate together to simulate a single radio telescope with a diameter of 14 kilometres. The antennas will operate at wavelengths between 0.00035 and 10 millimetres: that is, from submillimetre wavelengths to the beginning of the microwave range.

Canada will provide 64 ultra-sensitive receptors for the 3-millimetre wavelength range, as well as the image processing software for the radio telescope.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array will be used to study the formation of planets, stars, distant galaxies, galaxy clu Read More
The Atacama Large Millimeter Array will be inaugurated in 2011 at Llano de Chajnantor, a high plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The array should be usable for scientific purposes before its completion, starting in 2007.

The creation of the array is the result of collaboration between Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan and Chile. The National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics is responsible for Canada’s participation in the radio telescope.

The array consists of 62 parabolic antennas measuring 12 metres across and spread out over 14 kilometres in the desert. They will operate together to simulate a single radio telescope with a diameter of 14 kilometres. The antennas will operate at wavelengths between 0.00035 and 10 millimetres: that is, from submillimetre wavelengths to the beginning of the microwave range.

Canada will provide 64 ultra-sensitive receptors for the 3-millimetre wavelength range, as well as the image processing software for the radio telescope.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array will be used to study the formation of planets, stars, distant galaxies, galaxy clusters and interstellar matter.

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Colour photo of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array from inside the dome

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array.

National Research Council of Canada
National Research Council of Canada/National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Associated Universities Inc./European Southern Observatory

© National Research Council of Canada


As the name would suggest, Gemini (which means “twins” in Latin) is the name given to two astronomical observatories. The first, Gemini North, sits in the northern hemisphere atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The second, Gemini South, sits in the southern hemisphere at Cerro Pachón in Chile. The locations of these two observatories provide complete access to the sky from both hemispheres.

The idea to construct the two observatories arose in the mid-1980’s. The venture really got going in 1990 when an agreement was signed between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Other countries joined the group and the final financing for the observatories was made possible by the United States (48%), the United Kingdom (24%), Canada (14%), Chile (5%), Australia (5%), Argentina (2%) and Brazil (2%). The Gemini South Observatory.Observation time is distributed in these same proportions.

Gemini North saw first light in 1999, whereas Gemini South opened a year later in 2000. The telescopes of both observatories are identical: each mirror is 8.1 metres across, 20 centimetres thick and weighs 22 tonnes, and each mobile structure weighs 342 tonnes. The ins Read More
As the name would suggest, Gemini (which means “twins” in Latin) is the name given to two astronomical observatories. The first, Gemini North, sits in the northern hemisphere atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The second, Gemini South, sits in the southern hemisphere at Cerro Pachón in Chile. The locations of these two observatories provide complete access to the sky from both hemispheres.

The idea to construct the two observatories arose in the mid-1980’s. The venture really got going in 1990 when an agreement was signed between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Other countries joined the group and the final financing for the observatories was made possible by the United States (48%), the United Kingdom (24%), Canada (14%), Chile (5%), Australia (5%), Argentina (2%) and Brazil (2%). The Gemini South Observatory.Observation time is distributed in these same proportions.

Gemini North saw first light in 1999, whereas Gemini South opened a year later in 2000. The telescopes of both observatories are identical: each mirror is 8.1 metres across, 20 centimetres thick and weighs 22 tonnes, and each mobile structure weighs 342 tonnes. The instruments on each telescope, however, are not necessarily the same (cameras, spectrometers, etc.).

One of the main contributions made by Canada was to provide an adaptive optics system: a system that corrects image distortion due to turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere. A well-known effect of such turbulence is the twinkling of stars. The construction of the dome, the support, the subterranean facilities and the system that controls the rotating part of each telescope was also Canada’s responsibility.

A distinctive feature of the Gemini telescopes is their active optics system, which compensates for the effects of deformation in the main mirror (the mirror has the tendency to sag under its own weight when the telescope is pointed toward the sky). The system consists of 120 hydraulic jacks under the mirror that provide constant adjustments to restore it to a perfect shape. The adjustments are typically on the order of one thousandth the width of a human hair.

The observatories were specifically designed to observe visible light, but also infrared light. Clouds of gas and dust hide large sectors of space, like the regions where stars and planets are forming, or the cores of galaxies that contain quasars and black holes. Infrared light is of great interest to astronomers because it is able to penetrate these clouds and reveal details that would otherwise be invisible.

The reflecting surface of the Gemini mirrors is made of a thin film of silver that reflects infrared rays better than aluminum, and the domes of the observatories are a metallic grey colour instead of the traditional white to keep the temperature of the telescopes constant. Moving hatches allow the observing slits to open across the entire dome.

All these finishing touches make the Gemini telescopes expensive instruments to operate. It currently costs about $50,000 for a single night of observation at one of the telescopes. Astronomers, however, do not have to spend this amount themselves: user fees for a Gemini telescope are paid by the national agencies that finance the observatory.

Canadian participation in the Gemini telescopes is currently the responsibility of the National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

Colour photo of the Gemini North Observatory

The Gemini North Observatory.

NASA

© NASA


Colour photo of the Gemini South Observatory

The Gemini South Observatory.

National Research Council of Canada

© National Research Council of Canada


Colour photo of the 8.1-metre telescope of the Gemini North Observatory at dusk from behind the telescope

The 8.1-metre telescope of the Gemini North Observatory.

Gemini Telescope

© Gemini Telescope


Colour photo of a small fox on the ground with the Gemini South Observatory in the distance

A user of the Gemini South Observatory.

Sébastien Gauthier

© Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy


Colour video of Jean-René Roy in front of images of space

Jean-René Roy talks about the Gemini telescopes.

The two telescopes were built to take advantage of certain qualities of the instrumentation at the observatories; in particular, the goal is to produce the best images possible through our atmosphere despite turbulence and despite problems of variable transparency. The telescopes were also built to perform well in a region of the spectrum that has wavelengths longer than what our eyes can perceive, and which we call the infrared; specifically, the near-infrared and the mid-infrared. In the mid-infrared range, where the wavelengths are about 10 to 20 times longer than what our eyes can see, the waves kind of represent the heat that we feel coming from a hot source in our home. The optimization of these telescopes for the infrared was spurred on by the scientific desire to explore targets that are hidden by dust, which will help us better understand the formation of stars and planets, and to explore the farthest reaches of the Universe.

ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park

© 2006 An original idea and a realization of the ASTROLab of Mont-Mégantic National Park


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • identify recent contributions, including Canada’s, to the development of space exploration technologies;
  • describe in detail the function of Canadian technologies involved in exploration of space;
  • draw a solar system with all its components;
  • establish the link between atoms and light using different instruments.

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