Chile’s new observatory, world’s tallest, aims to reveal origins of planets, galaxies and more

The world's highest observatory explores the universe

The Atacama Observatory of the University of Tokyo (TAO) at the top of Cerro Chajnantor. Credit: TAO 2024 Project

How do planets form? How do galaxies evolve? And finally, how did the universe begin? A unique astronomical observatory that researchers hope will unravel some of the biggest mysteries out there is set to open on April 30, 2024.

At an altitude of 5,640 meters, the Atacama Observatory of the University of Tokyo (TAO), built atop a desert mountain in northern Chile, is the highest astronomical observatory in the world, which should give it a unmatched capability, but presents some new challenges. .

Astronomers will do more to get a better view of the universe. Going back hundreds of years, some of the first lenses were made for telescopes to bring the sky closer to Earth. Since then, there have been optical telescopes with mirrors as big as buildings, radio telescopes with antennas that stretched between mountain tops, and there’s even a space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, farther than the moon . And now, the University of Tokyo has opened another ground-breaking telescope.

TAO is finally up and running after 26 years of planning and construction. It is officially the tallest observatory in the world and was awarded a Guinness World Record in recognition of this fact. Located in Chile’s Atacama Desert, not far from another notable observatory frequently used by astronomers from Japanese institutions, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope. But why does TAO have to be so high, and what advantages and disadvantages does this factor bring?

“I’m trying to elucidate the mysteries of the universe, such as dark energy and the first primordial stars. To do this, you need to see the sky in a way that only the TAO can do,” said Professor Emeritus Yuzuru Yoshii , who has been a leader. the TAO project for 26 years as principal investigator since 1998. “Of course, it contains state-of-the-art optics, sensors, electronics and mechanisms, but the unique altitude of 5,640 meters is what gives TAO such clarity of vision. At this height, there is little moisture in the atmosphere to affect its infrared vision.

“Construction on the summit of Cerro Chajnantor was an incredible challenge, not only technically, but also politically. I have reached out to the indigenous peoples to ensure that their rights and opinions are considered, the Chilean government to obtain the permission, local universities for technical collaboration and even the Ministry of Health of Chile to ensure that people can work at this height safely.Thanks to all involved, the research with which only I’ve dreamed it can soon become a reality, and I couldn’t be happier.”

The world's highest observatory explores the universe

At 5,640 meters, the summit of Cerro Chajnantor, where TAO is located, allows the telescope to be above most of the moisture that would otherwise limit its infrared sensitivity. Credit: TAO 2024 Project

The incredible altitude of TAO makes it difficult and dangerous for humans to work there. The risk of altitude sickness is high, not only for construction sites, but even for the astronomers who work there, especially at night, when some symptoms can be worse. So the question is, will all this effort and expense be worth it? What kinds of research will it offer the astronomical community and, by extension, human knowledge?

“Thanks to the altitude and arid environment, TAO will be the only ground-based telescope in the world capable of clearly seeing mid-infrared wavelengths. This area of ​​the spectrum is very good for studying environments in around stars, including planet-forming regions,” said Professor Takashi Miyata, director of the Institute of Astronomy’s Atacama Observatory and manager of the observatory’s construction.

“Furthermore, because TAO is managed by the University of Tokyo, our astronomers will have unmitigated access to it for extended periods of time, which is essential for many new types of astronomical research that explore dynamic phenomena that are impossible to observe with rare observations from shared telescopes. I have been involved with TAO for more than 20 years as an astronomer, and I am very excited, and the real work, making observations, is about to begin,” added Professor Miyata.

There is a wide range of astronomical questions that TAO can contribute to, so researchers will have different uses for their privileged instruments. Some researchers are even contributing to TAO by developing instruments specific to their needs.

“Our team developed the Simultaneous Color Widefield Infrared Multiobject Spectrograph (SWIMS), an instrument that can observe a large area of ​​the sky and simultaneously observe two wavelengths of light. This will allow us to collect efficient information on a range of galaxies, fundamental structures that make up the universe, analysis of SWIMS observational data will provide information on their formation, including the evolution of supermassive black holes at their centers,” he said Assistant Professor Masahiro Konishi.

“New telescopes and instruments naturally help advance astronomy. I look forward to the next generation of astronomers using TAO and other ground-based and space-based telescopes to make unexpected discoveries that challenge our current understanding and explain the unexplained,” he continued Professor Konishi. .

Because of the relative availability of TAO, more young astronomers should be able to make use of it than with previous generations of telescopes. As a next-generation telescope, TAO can offer emerging research talent the opportunity to express their ideas in a way never before possible.

“I use various laboratory experiments to better understand the chemical nature of organic dust in the universe, which can help us learn more about the evolution of materials, including those that led to the creation of life. The better astronomical observations of the real thing can The more accurately we can reproduce what we see with our experiments on Earth, the TAO can greatly help as we observe organic dust in the mid-infrared,” said graduate student Riko Senoo.

“Although I will be able to use TAO remotely in the future, I will be on site to help build our specialized instrument, the Mid-Infrared Multiple Field Imager for Looking at the Unknown Universe (MIMIZUKU). TAO is in a remote region that I could never visit in everyday life, so I’m really looking forward to spending time there,” Senoo concluded.

Over time, both current and future astronomers will no doubt find more and more ways to make groundbreaking observations with TAO. The team hopes that the features that make it so novel, remote operation, highly sensitive instruments, and of course the fact that a high-precision telescope has been successfully developed to operate in a low-pressure environment, inform and inspire designers, engineers and researchers who contribute to astronomical observation facilities everywhere.

Provided by the University of Tokyo

Subpoena: Chile’s new observatory, world’s tallest aims to reveal the origins of planets, galaxies and more (2024, April 30) retrieved May 1, 2024 from /news/2024-04-observatory-chile-highest-world-goals.html

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