The Universe Tonight

Dec 3, 2011 6:00pm
Caltech Submillimeter Observatory

Dr. Simon Radford


Submillimeter Astronomy at the CSO

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) is one of the world's premier facilities for astronomical research and instrumentation development. Light at submillimeter wavelengths -- longer than infrared and shorter than radio wavelengths -- is particularly important for the study of interstellar dust particles and molecular gas. Because atmospheric water vapor interferes with submillimeter observations, however, the CSO is located high on Mauna Kea to take advantage of the very dry conditions. Astronomers use the CSO to observe objects in our Solar System, in our Galaxy, and in galaxies across the Universe. They study the composition and chemistry of interstellar gas and dust, the distribution of interstellar material in our Galaxy, the conditions surrounding star birth and the formation of planetary systems, the late stages of stellar evolution, and the history of star formation across cosmic time. The properties of the most distant galaxies observed with the CSO, 12 billion light years away, reveal the conditions that existed when the universe was very young.

The CSO employs a novel active system to maintain the alignment of the mirror panels and to provide the smooth surface needed for submillimeter observations. The CSO's advanced spectrometers and cameras have detectors cooled with liquid helium close to absolute zero temperature for maximum sensitivity.



Dr. Simon Radford is the Technical Manager of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea. He received his Ph. D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington in Seattle based on observations of the Cosmic Background Radiation. Subsequenty he has worked at the Institute de Radio Astronomie Millimetrique in Grenoble, France, and at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Since 2004, he has been a member of the Professional Staff of the California Institute of Technology. His research has included observations of the CBR, studies of the interstellar medium in distant ultraluminous galaxies, characterization of observing conditions at telescope sites, and development of telescopes and instrumentation.



On the first Saturday of each month, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) hosts The Universe Tonight, a special presentation on the current research and discoveries occurring on Mauna Kea. The presentation begins at 6:00 PM and is followed by the regular evening stargazing program at the VIS.

The Universe Tonight typically features an astronomer from one of the observatories on Mauna Kea giving a presentation on recent observations and discoveries from their telescope. Observatories are on a rotating schedule. If you would like to know about upcoming presentations, please call the VIS at (808) 961-2180 during operational hours.

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