With twelve antennae, the European observatory NOEMA has reached full capacity

Observations of unprecedented quality: the NOEMA observatory uses its antennas to scour the universe in the radio range. Credit: Jérémie BOISSIER / IRAM
Observations of unprecedented quality: the NOEMA observatory uses its antennas to scour the universe in the radio range. Credit: Jérémie BOISSIER / IRAM

The NOEMA radio telescope, located in the French Alps on the Plateau de Bure, currently has twelve antennas, making it the most powerful radio telescope of its kind in the northern hemisphere. It is run by the multinational institute IRAM, which includes the Max Planck Society. On September 30, Max Planck President Martin Stratmann was among the visitors at the telescope's opening event. The large-scale European project is finally complete, eight years after the first NOEMA antenna was inaugurated in 2014. NOEMA is unique equipment for astronomical research because of its twelve 15-meter antennas, which can be moved back and forth on a specially built rail system up to a distance of 1.7 kilometers.

The telescope has incredibly sensitive reception mechanisms that operate near the quantum limit. The observatory's twelve antennas operate as a single telescope during observations, a method known as interferometry. After all of the antennas have been directed in the same direction, the signals they receive are merged using a supercomputer. Their detailed resolution is thus equivalent to that of a massive telescope with a diameter equal to the distance between the furthest antennas.

The antenna setup may cover distances ranging from a few hundred meters to 1.7 kilometers. As a result, the network operates similarly to a camera with a changeable lens. The greater the distance between the antennas, the more intense the zoom: NOEMA's maximum spatial resolution is so high that it can identify a mobile phone from nearly 500 kilometers away.

NOEMA is one of the few radio observatories in the world that can detect and measure a huge number of signatures, or fingerprints of molecules and atoms, at the same time. NOEMA is a unique instrument for exploring the complexity of cold matter in interstellar space, as well as the university's building components, thanks to these so-called multi-line observations paired with great sensitivity. Over 5,000 researchers from all over the world work with NOEMA to investigate the composition and dynamics of galaxies, as well as the birth and death of stars, comets in our solar system, and the surroundings of black holes. The observatory collects light from cosmic objects that have traveled more than 13 billion years to Earth.

NOEMA has already made a number of significant scientific discoveries and discoveries. The telescope, for example, has spotted the most distant known galaxy to date, which formed just after the Big Bang. Furthermore, NOEMA recently measured the temperature of cosmic background radiation at a very early stage of the cosmos, a scientific first that should allow researchers to monitor the impacts of dark energy that is forcing the universe apart.

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