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NCSA Participates in Design of Next-generation Telescopes

The Chilean Atacama telescope site. (Debra Kellner)

Researchers from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Center for Astrophysical Surveys are ready to embark on a new experiment aimed to capture light from the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

Thanks to a $3.7 million National Science Foundation (NSF) first-year grant to the University of Chicago, NCSA’s Director of Astronomy Professor Joaquin Vieira, Senior Research Scientist Dr. Felipe Menanteau and Senior Project Manager Donald Petravick will collaborate with researchers from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of High Energy Physics (HEP), the University of Chicago and Michigan State University to further the design of the CMB-S4 experiment. The NSF grant may fund up to $21.4 million for the final designs.

It is really exciting to be working on this next-generation millimeter-wave survey that will shed light on the first instance of the universe and also its evolution over all of cosmic time. Many of us from around the world have been working towards this project for nearly a decade, and to have it finally start in an official sense is a great accomplishment.

Joaquin Vieira, NCSA Director of Astronomy

CMB-S4 will provide a powerful and unique millimeter-wave survey covering 70% of the sky aimed at understanding the origin and evolution of the universe. Unique data products from this survey will benefit the entire astronomical community in an era in which multi-wavelength and multi-messenger astronomy will open the door to new discoveries. The new telescopes and cameras will operate from both Antarctica and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

The current radio telescopes at NSF’s South Pole Station. (Keith Vanderlinde, Dunlap Institute)

The NSF funding will continue the designs for new telescopes – assessment of alternative instrument configurations while advancing technical, budgetary and administrative deliverables – as the project moves toward construction readiness.

“One of the new things CMB-S4 will do is open up the transient and variable universe in the millimeter wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Dr. Menanteau. “This wavelength of light is underexplored and no one has ever made a movie of the universe at these wavelengths, so there is a huge opportunity to make new discoveries.”

CMB-S4 provides a powerful and synergistic complement to major upcoming astronomical surveys and facilities, such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.

CMB-S4 was recommended in the Astro2020 decadal report sponsored by the National Academies, which sets the priorities for the field of astronomy in the coming decade. Recently, CMB-S4 received the highest priority for new major HEP projects by the DOE’s P5 Report.

Read the funding announcement from the University of Chicago and this recent article from Nature for more on the CMB-S4 project.

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