Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy

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Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy
CARMA Panoramic cropped2.jpg
Location(s) Owens Valley Radio Observatory Edit this on Wikidata, United States of America Edit this on Wikidata
Coordinates 37°16′49″N 118°08′31″W / 37.2804°N 118.142°W / 37.2804; -118.142Coordinates: 37°16′49″N 118°08′31″W / 37.2804°N 118.142°W / 37.2804; -118.142
Organization California Institute of Technology Edit this on Wikidata
Altitude 2,196.223 m (7,205.46 ft)
Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy is located in the US
Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy
Location of Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) was an astronomical instrument comprising 23 radio telescopes. These telescopes formed an astronomical interferometer where all the signals are combined in a purpose-built computer (a correlator) to produce high-resolution astronomical images. The telescopes ceased operation in April 2015 and were relocated to the Owens Valley Radio Observatory for storage.


According to the CARMA observatory catalog, the median height of all telescope pads was at an elevation of 2196.223 m (7205.807 ft). The observatory was located in the Inyo Mountains to the east of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, at a site called Cedar Flat, accessed through Westgard Pass. The high elevation site was chosen to minimize millimeter wave absorption and phase decoherence by atmospheric water vapor.

Until the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile is in full operation, this instrument was the most powerful millimeter wave interferometer in the world.[citation needed]


This array was unique for being a heterogeneous collection of radio telescopes of varying sizes and design. There were three types of telescopes, all Cassegrain reflector antennas with parabolic primary mirrors and hyperbolic secondary mirrors:

  • 6 Telescopes each 10.4 meters (34 ft) in diameter. These were part of the Millimeter Array at the OVRO site operated by Caltech. They were moved to Cedar Flat in the Spring of 2005.
  • 9 Telescopes each 6.1 m (20 ft) in diameter. These were formerly located at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory and operated by the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland-Association (BIMA) consortium. These were moved from HCRO in the spring of 2005 to Cedar Flat.
  • 8 Telescopes each 3.5 m (11 ft) in diameter. These were built as an instrument for cosmology and are also known as the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Array (SZA), a project led by John Carlstrom at the University of Chicago. The SZA spent three years on the valley floor at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory observing the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and galaxy clusters. In the summer of 2008 it was moved up to Cedar Flat. The array presently observed radio waves with wavelengths of 1 cm (about 30 GHz) and 3 mm (about 100 GHz).


As of November 2006, the 6 telescopes from the OVRO array and the 9 telescopes from the BIMA array are working together to gather scientific data. Pioneering work on compensating for the image distortion resulting from turbulent water vapor distributions in the troposphere started in the fall of 2008.

The most extended configurations of the array required for viewing the finest details in astronomical images, the telescopes are separated by up to 2 km. Over these distances the variation in the time of arrival of signals at the different telescopes as they pass through different amounts of water vapor severely limits the quality of images.

By siting an SZA antenna near each of the CARMA antennas and observing a compact astronomical radio source near the source under study, the properties of the atmosphere can be measured on time scales as short as a couple of seconds. This information can be used in the data reduction process to remove a significant fraction of the degradation caused by the atmospheric scintillation.

Observations using the SZA (operating at 30 GHz) to make the atmospheric measurements started in November 2008. The SZA has also participated directly in the science operations of CARMA during experiments where all three types of telescopes were attached to the same correlator.

Observations are primarily in the 3 mm range (80–115 GHz) and the 1 mm range (210–270 GHz). These frequencies are useful for detecting many molecular gases, including the second most abundant molecule in the universe, Carbon Monoxide (CO).

Observing CO is an indirect indicator of the presence of molecular hydrogen gas (the most abundant molecule in the universe) which is difficult to detect directly. Cold dust is also detectable in this wavelength range and can be used to study planet-forming disks around stars, for example. In 2009, the OVRO 10.4 m antennas were instrumented with 27–35 GHz receivers and made observations in the centimeter band in concert with the SZA antennas.

Universities involved[edit]

CARMA is a consortium composed of three primary groups.

California Institute of Technology, Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA), University of Chicago

See also[edit]

External links[edit]