Seven Canadian universities have joined a U.S. led consortium to build the 25 meter Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT) in northern Chile at the site of the highest permanent ground-based telescopes in the world in the hopes of answering some of the fundamental questions of cosmology.
The project started in 2004 when Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology signed a memorandum of understanding to kick-start the project by completing a feasibility study. The study concluded that there was a compelling case for the development of the telescope. In 2007 the University of Colorado and the U.K. Astronomy Technology Center joined the consortium. At the same time discussions began with several Canadian universities to join the consortium. In 2009 the universities of Cologne and Bonn in Germany and Associated Universities Inc. of Washington, D.C joined.
On March 9 the Canadian contingent formally joined the consortium by signing a memorandum of understanding. The Canadian universities include the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University, and the University of Calgary. Up to three more Canadian universities may join as well.
Construction on the telescope is scheduled to start in 2013 and should be completed by 2017 and is expected to cost at least $110 million of which Canada has committed to funding 25% of the project. It will be built 5612 meters above sea level on the Cerro Chajnantor mountain in Chile’s Atacama desert and will give astronomers a new window into the epoch of star and galaxy formation.
Canada may contribute the dome and several instrument parts including the continuum cameras, polarimeters, imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometers as well as software both for data analysis and archives. According to a draft white paper by Michael Fich of the University of Waterloo who heads up the Canadian contingent, there is also the possibility of an all-Canadian contribution of large heterodyne focal plane arrays and the correlator back-ends.
The Canadian contributions are in areas in which there is a significant heritage and expertise within Canada notably from Canada’s involvement in the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.