1664791042 Alpine radio telescope Noema reaches full power

Alpine radio telescope Noema reaches full power

IN BRIEF – The Noema radio telescope installed on the Bure plateau in Dévoluy (05) was inaugurated on September 30, 2022. This new major European infrastructure for radio astronomy has just reached full capacity with the commissioning of its last antenna. The result of more than forty years of scientific collaboration between France, Germany and Spain, it will allow unprecedented observations.

After reaching its full capacity, the Noema radio telescope was inaugurated in the Hautes-Alpes at the end of September. The Noema Observatory (NORthern Extended Millimeter Array) was originally the Bure Plateau Interferometer, inaugurated in 1989. It was built and is managed by the Institute of Millimetric Radio Astronomy (Iram), a world leader in the field, whose headquarters are in Grenoble.

The project to make it the “most powerful millimeter radio telescope in the northern hemisphere” was born in 2011. Eight years after inaugurating its first antenna in 2014, it now has “twelve 15-meter antennas” traveling on rails up to 1.7 km.

Noema Observatory on the Bure Plateau.  © Iram

Noema Observatory on the Bure Plateau. © Iram

This new astronomical research tool has impressive resolving power, allowing scientists to “collect light that has traveled up to 13 billion years to reach Earth.” According to CNRS, “it would be able to distinguish a mobile phone more than 500 kilometers away”. In fact, Noema’s twelve antennas have receivers with very high sensitivity, “close to quantum limits”.

The technique of interferometry consists in pointing all the antennas at the same area of ​​space. The researchers then combine the signals with a supercomputer. Their final resolving power corresponds to that of a gigantic telescope.

Already extraordinary results

In addition, by modifying the antenna configuration, it is possible to “zoom in” on a celestial object to observe its details. The modular configurations allow the antenna array to function as a “variable lens camera”.

It is also one of the few radio observatories in the world capable of “multiline observations”, that is, “to measure simultaneously a large number of signatures of molecules and atoms”. In total, more than 5,000 researchers from all over the world conduct research with Noema.

With this extraordinary telescope they can study the cold matter of the cosmos just a few degrees above absolute zero. But also the formation, composition and dynamics of entire galaxies, stars in formation and at the end of their lives, comets…

Noema is also active in the international collaboration EHT, which is at the origin of the first images of black holes. Among the many discoveries made possible by Noema is the observation of the most distant galaxy known to date. This one is very old: it appeared just after the Big Bang!