UK instrument heading to Mexico to help understand how stars are born

The Collaborative Heterodyne Astronomical Receiver for Mexico (CHARM) will be integrated onto the Large Millimetre Telescope.

A new instrument aimed at helping astronomers understand how stars are born will make its way from the UK to Mexico.

The Collaborative Heterodyne Astronomical Receiver for Mexico (CHARM) will be integrated onto the Large Millimetre Telescope, Mexico’s largest ever investment in science infrastructure.

CHARM will be the first device at the telescope to operate using wavelengths of light less than a millimetre in length.

It will enhance the telescope’s ability to see the molecules that make up interstellar clouds of dust and the role they play through the lifecycle of stars.

The instrument, no larger than a suitcase, was developed by experts from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space, in collaboration with astronomers at the University of Manchester and Mexico.

The instrument bound for Mexico
The instrument bound for Mexico (STFC RAL Space/PA)

Professor Brian Ellison, who leads the RAL Space Millimetre Wave Technology group, said: “The LMT was one of the observatories involved in imaging the blackhole earlier in the year so we’re all excited to be contributing to this amazing science facility.

“And CHARM represents an important step in developing a great international relationship, making new friends and new scientific discoveries.”

Once the instrument arrives at the summit of the dormant volcano Sierra Negra later this year, the RAL Space team will install it onto the telescope.

Unlike the other LMT instruments, it operates at room temperature, meaning installation is expected to be relatively straightforward.

Gary Fuller, CHARM principal investigator, said: “CHARM will provide the LMT with a brand new capability, giving astronomers in Mexico and the UK exciting new opportunities to understand how giant clouds of gas and dust in galaxies collapse to make new generations of stars.

“CHARM’s success will, in the future, also help LMT make more precise measurements of black holes at the centres of galaxies.”

CHARM is a pathfinder mission and will detect signals at far smaller wavelengths than the other instruments at the telescope.

As well as searching the skies, it will help to show whether the LMT’s optics and enormous 50m diameter primary dish can support instruments detecting at these sub millimetre wavelengths.

If this is successful, an even more sensitive instrument could be developed.

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