By Jim Barlow
Just days after a new generation of telescopes was commissioned at the
Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California, UI scientists who use
the facility announced they had found vinegar in interstellar space, some
25,000 light years from Earth.
With the addition of seven new radio telescopes, making a total of nine, the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) Array became the world's fastest, highest-resolution radio astronomy facility. Dedication ceremonies were June 1.
Researchers said the additional telescopes and technical improvements at the facility will enhance efforts to find new molecules in space, study regions of star formation, observe comets and search for so-far undetected galaxies and planets.
On June 10, a team led by Lewis Snyder, a UI astronomy professor, reported at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in Madison, Wis., that acetic acid - the pungent, colorless liquid that provides the taste and odor of vinegar - was floating in a molecular cloud known as Sagittarius B2. The discovery was made using the new BIMA Array; it was later confirmed by using the Owens Valley Radio Observatory Array near Bishop, Calif.
The UI has been involved in the Hat Creek facility since 1985, officially joining a consortium with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Maryland at College Park in 1987.
Scientists from participating institutions have access via the Internet to data downloaded daily from the array to the Astronomy Digital Image Library at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the UI, said Snyder, director of the Laboratory for Astronomical Imaging - the Illinois component of the BIMA Array.
The facility makes use of a technology known as millimeter wavelength interferometry - considered to be on the cutting edge in modern radio astronomy. Millimeter wavelength astronomy involves short radio wavelengths (between 1 and 3 mm) which provide the ability to observe small amounts of energy emitted by molecules and to study the coldest reaches of the universe.
By using an interferometric array (individual telescopes placed strategically apart), signals from space are electronically combined to simulate a single, large telescope. George W. Swenson Jr., professor emeritus of electrical engineering and astronomy, was an early pioneer in the field of radio interferometry, so the participation of the UI astronomy department in the BIMA Array is an extension of a long university tradition, Snyder said.