Construction has started on Canada’s largest radio telescope, the first of its kind to be built in the country in more than 30 years.
The $11 million research telescope, known as the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is being built at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in Penticton, B.C.
Once completed, the telescope will be larger than six NHL hockey rinks and will “listen” for cosmic sound waves to help scientists understand why the universe has been expanding so rapidly in recent years.
“It’s a way to inexpensively survey large volumes of the universe,” says Kris Sigurdson, one of the lead investigators.
“The goal there is to make a three-dimensional map of the universe, and we want to use that to measure how fast the universe has been expanding over the course of its history.”
The telescope boasts a 100-metre by 100-metre collecting area filled with 2,560 low-noise receivers. Built with components adapted from the cellphone industry, the telescope will scan half the sky every day and will map 25 percent of the observable universe within five years.
Signals collected by the telescope will be digitally sampled nearly one billion times per second, then processed to synthesize an image of the sky.
“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 research,” says UBC astrophysicist and project co-investigator Gary Hinshaw.
The expansion of the universe was first discovered by astronomer Edwin Hubble in the 1920s. In the late 1990s astronomers discovered that the universe was not only continuously expanding, but at an increasingly rapid rate. To date scientists and astronomers have been unable to explain the reason why.
“The rate of the expansion is increasing, and we don’t know why it’s increasing,” says Sigurdson.
“That’s one of the goals of this telescope, is to try and determine what’s responsible for this acceleration of the expansion rate of the universe.”
The project is funded in part by a $4.6-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and includes scientists from UBC, McGill University, the University of Toronto, and the DRAO.
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