Radio telescope network
August 24, 2011
By Fábio de Castro
Agência FAPESP – Brazil and Argentina may build a new radio telescope together capable of conducting research in all areas of astronomy as well as stimulate cooperation between scientists from the two nations through the largest astronomical project in existence today.
The topic was debated for two consecutive days at FAPESP’s headquarters in São Paulo during the LLAMA Workshop. During the event, which ended on Tuesday, August 9, representatives of astronomy’s scientific community defended construction of the Long Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA).
At the workshop, professor Jacques Lépine of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG) at Universidade de São Paulo (USP), presented a lecture entitled “Science and Technology with LLAMA”.
According to Lépine, the objective of the event was to show the high demand for the project in the scientific community and that it could bring important scientific results to many areas of astronomy, in addition to increasing the competitiveness of Brazilian and Argentine researchers for participation in the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array project (ALMA), which is being built in Chile.
“ALMA is the largest astronomical project underway today, financed by the European Union, the United States and Japan. The aim is for LLAMA will be located 200 kilometers from ALMA. That way, we will be able to use interferometry between the two projects, meaning to use them in a network to obtain higher resolution,” he told Agência FAPESP.
According to Lépine, LLAMA will have an antenna 12 meters in diameter installed on Argentine soil, initially budgeted at US$ 20 million. ALMA, whose construction is slated for completion at the end of 2013, consists of a set of 66 12-meter antennae spread out over an approximately 15-kilometer area in the north of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Its budget is US$ 1.4 billion. Both projects will have installations at around 5,000 meters of altitude.
“Each time that ALMA makes a scientific discovery of great interest—and without a doubt there will be many in the largest astronomical project existing today—the researchers may want to achieve better angular resolution to observe it. And LLAMA will be there to enable them to do so,” said Lépine.
LLAMA would allow for studies in nearly all areas of astronomy, with studies on the Sun and the solar system, evolution of stars, interstellar medium and distant galaxies. ALMA, which has the same scientific goals, is expected to specialize in new images of the birth of stars, the formation of planetary systems and data about the first galaxies in the universe.
“There will be much competition for the use of ALMA, and with LLAMA South American scientists will have more bargaining power to increase their time of use. With a R$ 20 million investment, we will be able to greatly increase our participation in a huge US$ 1.4 billion global project,” Lépine pointed out.
The affirmation was reiterated by ALMA’s director, Thij de Graauw, who also attended the workshop. “LLAMA would, without a doubt, be the best possible opportunity for Brazilian and Argentine researchers to be able to participate in ALMA research,” he affirmed.
According to Lépine, ALMA will begin operating with bands of wavelengths from 84 to 116 gigahertz, from 221 to 275 gigahertz, from 275 to 373 gigahertz and from 602 to 720 gigahertz. LLAMA will begin operations with wavelengths of 31 to 45 gigahertz.
“The data obtained at LLAMA will be able to be refined with ALMA, whose researchers will also be able to use LLAMA to gain better angular resolution in order to study the details of a certain discovery,” he said.
According to Lépine, another of LLAMA’s advantages is that it will be the seed project for a network of radio telescopes. “Over the long term, ALMA will need installed antennae in many countries in the region. LLAMA could be the beginning of this scientific integration and regional technology,” he affirmed.
Demand from the scientific community
According to FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the role of the workshop was to bring together the interested scientific community to place demand for projects like LLAMA into perspective.
“When scientists come to us with ideas like this, the first thing we ask is if there is a scientific community that will benefit from the idea here in São Paulo or in Brazil. We evaluate not just the size of the community, but also to what extent it generates expectations of producing high impact science with the project in question,” he said.
In order to make this evaluation, Brito Cruz says it is necessary for the interested parties to show what sort of science they are involved in so as to understand the current stage of development of the science related to the project.
“Depending on the workshop’s results, if we find the proposal to be significant and capable of producing good results and high impact science, we can study opening a research proposal for that type of science. The workshop is fundamental in paving the way of the process,” he affirmed.
Marta Rovira, president of the Argentine National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), came to São Paulo just to participate in the workshop. She pointed out that joining the project could bring scientific collaboration between Brazil and Argentina even closer together.
“It is a very interesting radio astronomy project and the partnerships with Brazil are always very important. The academic and scientific relationship between the two nations is generally very close. Not just in institutional collaboration, but also in collaborative work groups,” she pointed out.
According to her, the Argentine scientific community has also shown enthusiasm for the project. “The researchers in the area of radio astronomy are very interested and are especially motivated by the possibility of having access to ALMA’s instruments, which are part of a grandiose project,” she said.
Rovira explained that CONICET currently operates separately from FAPESP. The institution is a federal agency not dedicated to directly financing research, but that hires scientific and technical researchers connected to universities. The Council also offers doctoral fellowships.
“CONICET has nearly 150 institutions spread out throughout the country. They are thematic entities that bring together people dedicated to common topics. The institutions house technical staff and employees, including administrative staff belonging to CONICET. But unlike FAPESP, fomenting research is not the main goal. The budget is used mostly to pay salaries,” she explained.
If the LLAMA project is approved, construction of the antenna will be funded from the Brazilian side, while Argentina will provide the land and infrastructure for the site, including roads, telecommunications and small buildings.