Open house to the stars

carma1On Saturday morning at Cedar Flat off Highway 168, 13 miles east of Highway 395, as many as 300 people walked through the famous radio astronomy observatory known as CARMA for the annual Open House. The weather was perfect. Locals and visitors, mostly ages over 60 and under 12, listened to the complex explanations of what happens there and then walked among the other-worldly-like telescopes.

CARMA stands for Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy. It’s the world’s most powerful observatory of its kind. It is jointly operated by Caltech, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland and the University of Chicago. Funding comes from the universities and from the National Science Foundation.

Staff scientists explained how CARMA’s high-resolution telescopes can peer into nearby and distant galaxies. According to staff, this allows scientists to study cold molecular gas which is the fuel of star formation and food for massive black holes and to determine how solar systems like ours form.

The staff toured visitors through the highly sophisticated banks of computers that receive transmissions from the telescopes, clean them up and analyze them. The radio telescopes receive information from clusters of galaxies that allow for study of what is called Dark Energy. Scientists say this energy governs the expansion of our Universe. The energy and matter scientists view from the array are millions or billions of light years away.

Closer to home, the Open House wrapped up with free refreshments, including hot dogs and chips. The warm hospitality of the scientists and other staff left most visitors smiling.

For more on CARMA and the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, including tours, check out their website – www.ovro.caltech.edu.

 

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