Radio Astronomy Laboratory

The Radio Astronomy Laboratory (RAL) was created in 1958 to foster research in radio astronomy, a discipline that naturally extends beyond the borders of traditional academic departments at Berkeley. Over the years, faculty and graduate students from the Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Geology and Geophysics departments have made use of the RAL's facilities.

The main activity of the RAL has been to build and maintain a radio astronomy observatory at Hat Creek, near Mt. Lassen, supported by on-campus laboratory facilities in Campbell Hall. The current observatory is a state-of-the-art array of ten radio telescopes (the BIMA array) that operate at millimeter wavelengths, one of only four such facilities in the world. The signals from the antennas are combined to make images of cosmic radio sources. In July 1998, the RAL entered into an agreement with the SETI Institute of Mountain View California to design, build and operate an array of radio telescopes of a radically new design operating at centimeter wavelengths, known as the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). The BIMA Array will soon be moved to a site in the Inyo Mountains and combined with the six telescopes of Caltech's OVRO array to form a new, more powerful instrument known as CARMA. The RAL will thus be operating two observatories capable of making observations from frequencies of 300 MHz to nearly 300 GHz, or nearly 10 octaves in frequency.

University observatories provide the best environment for future generations of radio astronomers and instrumentalists to be trained while carrying out cutting-edge research. The Radio Astronomy Laboratory at UC Berkeley has been one of the most important centers in the world producing new generations of radio astronomers and radio astronomy instrumentalists. Producing such technologically capable individuals also has the potential for producing commercial spin-offs and several such are anticipated from RAL's current projects.

The primary importance of current RAL projects will be the research done on galaxy and star formation, galaxy evolution, the distribution of dark matter, protostars, comets and other features of our universe. New scientific discoveries about our cosmos, about humankind's relationship to the heavens, and about our cosmic origins are anticipated results of these exciting projects. The three main efforts of these projects are:

BIMA-As part of a consortium consisting of the Universities at Berkeley, Illinois, and Maryland, the RAL has had prime responsibility for the continuing operations of and design modifications to the BIMA array at Hat Creek. Because of its high resolution and excellent spatial sampling capabilities, BIMA is the premier imaging instrument in the world at millimeter wavelengths. The high fidelity images of complex structures in galaxies and dust clouds have made it possible to study large areas in fine detail. Fundamental advances in both galactic and extragalactic research have been made over the last twenty years with the BIMA array as it has grown from two antennae to the current ten.

CARMA-In order to maintain its leading position in millimeter-wave imaging, the institutions constituting BIMA will join with the California Institute of Technology to design and build the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA). When completed in 2005-06, CARMA will have outstanding sensitivity, as well as the highest resolution and best imaging of any millimeter-wave telescope in the world. CARMA will nearly triple the collecting area of the BIMA array and be located at a higher, drier site at 7800 ft in elevation, thus increasing the sensitivity of observations at the highest frequencies by nearly an order of magnitude. It is expected that the eight 3.5 millimeter telescopes of the University of Chicago Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Array will also be part of the new CARMA array, further enhancing the imaging capabilities of CARMA. The combination of these mixed telescope diameters, the high altitude site, and increase in sensitivity will make a whole new range of science possible. The goal is to establish CARMA as a multi-university facility for innovative research, novel technical developments, and training of the next generation of radio astronomers and experimentalists.

Allen Telescope Array-The design of the ATA was funded by philanthropists Paul G. Allen and Nathan P. Myhrvold in July 2000. Paul Allen was co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, and Myhvold the director of strategic planning for Microsoft. The ATA will consist of 350 individual 20-foot antennas linked to form the equivalent of a single large antenna and will replace the BIMA telescopes currently located at the observatory. The current schedule calls for completion of the telescope array by December 2005. The telescope will be the first telescope to incorporate active interference mitigation in its design and will have, by far, the largest field-of view of any major radio telescope. This innovative project will be the first large telescope dedicated to the search for signals from extraterrestrial technological civilizations, and will thus engage the curiosity of people around the globe. For radio astronomy, the proposed array will make it possible to do entirely new kinds of observations not heretofore possible, and will undoubtedly generate new discoveries. It is already being hailed as a model for the future of radio telescopes by scientists around the world.

Aaron Parsons
(510) 642-5275
Mailing address

601 Campbell, Berkeley, CA 94720 - 3411