Astrophysicists from the McGill and the CRAQ will participate, with other Canadian astronomers, in the understanding of the mysteries of ‘dark energy’.
The collaborative project, known as the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is a novel radio telescope designed to study the structure of the very early Universe, and to map matter in the Universe by observing the distribution of hydrogen. The project involves the Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Québec via the cosmology group at McGill University, as well at the University of Toronto, the University of British-Columbia and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, BC.
The construction started in February, and once fully built, CHIME will look like a 10000 m^2 network of snow-plow blades turned upward. CHIME will be built at the National Research Council’s radio observatory in Penticton, BC, which is legally protected from radio interference and is one of the best sites in the world for this research.
The project exploits a new technique called hydrogen intensity mapping, pioneered by a team led by UofT professor Ue-Li Pen, which enables a radio telescope to survey huge volumes for a fraction of the cost of other methods. The CHIME observatory, which has no moving parts and scans half of the sky every day, will produce the largest-volume survey of cosmic structure ever measured, the researchers say. The extremely large volume of data is then analyzed by powerful computers in order to achieve the very high sensitivity and stability we need to find the cosmological signal, and its tiny variations called “baryon acoustic oscillations”. These data will then be used to produce the most precise map of the large-scale structure of the Universe. McGill professors Matt Dobbs and David Hanna, also members of the CRAQ, are members of the collaboration that also involves graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
“An enormous advantage of a digital telescope is that it does not need to be physically steered towards a particular source in the sky”, explains McGill astrophysicist Matt Dobbs. “This is done digitally, so there are no moving parts required for the telescope itself. With digital signal processing we can achieve the very high sensitivity and stability we need to find the cosmological signal. “The signal we are looking for is very weak, and we expect it will take us at least two years to detect it,” Dobbs adds.
The project has been funded in part through CFI’s Leading Edge Fund to bring the total funding for CHIME to $11 million, including $1.6 million from Quebec’s Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie.
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Olivier Hernandez, Ph.D.
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