Construction is now under way in Penticton, B.C. on Canada’s largest radio telescope – and the first research telescope to be built in the country in more than 30 years.
The new telescope, with a footprint larger than six NHL hockey rinks, will listen for cosmic sound waves and help scientists understand why the universe has expanded rapidly – and learn about the mysterious 'dark energy' that is supposedly driving the expansion.
Part of the $11-million Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the radio telescope is being built at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in Penticton B.C. because the area is federally protected from radio interference.
"We plan to map a quarter of the observable universe," says University of British Columbia astrophysicist Mark Halpern, the project's principal investigator. "This is an ambitious, made-in-Canada endeavor."
With no moving parts, the telescope boasts a 100-metre-by-100-metre collecting area filled with 2,560 low-noise receivers built with components adapted from the cell phone industry which, collectively, scan half of the sky every day.
"The CHIME telescope will be the most sensitive instrument in the world for this type of research and the DRAO is one of the best sites in the world for this type of research," says UBC astrophysicist and project co-investigator Gary Hinshaw, who was in Penticton to witness the groundbreaking of the telescope’s foundation.
"This is something that our community can be really proud of."
Signals collected by the CHIME telescope will be digitally sampled nearly one billion times per second, then processed to synthesize an image of the sky.
"We live in an expanding universe, and the discovery at the end of the 20th century that the rate of expansion is speeding up, rather than slowing down, has forced us to re-examine basic assumptions about gravity on cosmic scales, and what the universe is made of," says UBC astrophysicist and CHIME co-investigator Kris Sigurdson.
"It appears to be filled with an exotic substance we call dark energy."
Adds Halpern: "Data collected by CHIME will help us understand the history of the Universe, and in turn how dark energy has driven its expansion."
CHIME is funded in part by a $4.6-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Astrophysicists at UBC, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the DRAO are collaborating on the project.