A Letter of Intent between the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has been signed by NRC President Arthur J. Carty and NSF Director Rita Colwell, setting out the principles for cooperation between the two organizations in developing plans for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
The ALMA will be an array of large radio antennas constructed at a 5000 metre altitude in the Atacama Desert in Chile. When completed, it will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope operating at mm and sub-mm wavelengths. The ALMA will produce breakthroughs in our understanding of how planets and stars form in our own Galaxy and how galaxies themselves formed in the early history of the Universe.
The ALMA project is an international partnership between the U.S. NSF and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The Letter of Intent defines how Canada can join this partnership. Additional partners, including Japan, may also join in the future. The ALMA is thus emerging as a true World Observatory involving all of the major scientific nations.
The Letter states that both agencies will use their best efforts to obtain the necessary funding for the construction and operation of the ALMA. Under the terms of the Letter, NRC will seek the equivalent of $US20M to contribute to the ALMA project with additional funds to cover the Canadian share of the operating costs of the ALMA. In return, Canada would be recognized as a full partner in the project.
The NRC-NSF Letter of Intent is complemented by a separate agreement between the NRC’s Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics (HIA) and the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) to form the North American Partnership for Radio Astronomy (NAPRA). Under the NAPRA agreement, the HIA will seek $10M to develop and produce a new wide bandwidth signal correlator for the NRAO’s Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) project. This will dramatically enhance the sensitivity of the EVLA telescope.
In return for these contributions, Canadian astronomers would be granted access to all major U.S. national radio astronomy observatories, including the ALMA, EVLA, the 100m Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) on the same basis as American astronomers.
The NSF is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest over $3 billion U.S. per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. to provide state-of-the-art radio
telescope facilities to the science community.
The National Research Council (NRC) is Canada’s national research and development agency with laboratories, offices, and industrial technology advisors in locations across Canada. It has the Parliamentary mandate to operate Canada’s national observatories.