Recollections of "Tucson Operations"
The millimeter-wave radio telescope of the National Radio Astronomy - servatory(theNRAO)wasoneofthemostsuccessfultelescopeseverbuiltin the United States. Planned in 1962 and constructed on Kitt Peak, Arizona, this 36-ft parabolic antenna was not completed until 1967 because of the technical challenges associated with its noveldesign. Its early years produced few astronomically signi?cant results. These observations consisted of continuum observations primarily at ?3mm but also at ?1.2mm. The problem was the low sensitivity of millimeter-wave radio receivers availableatthe time. What could be detected was just not interesting. In contrast, its later years were spectacularly productive. Starting in the 1970s,astronomersbegandetectingemissionlinesfrominterstellarmolecules inthese same wavelengthbands. Unlikethe earlier continuum observations, theseresultswerecompletelynew, creatinganewwaytoexplorethechar- teristicsofcosmicobjects. Intime, theyrevolutionizedourunderstandingof the nature of interstellar gas, chemistry at extremely low temperatures, and how stars form and galaxies evolve. The observations even provided a way to study the structure of the molecules themselves. For several years, the 36-ft telescope was in more demand than any other telescope in the United States, optical or radio. Apartfromastronomy,thedemandsofmillimeter-waveastronomyth- selves stimulated developments in electronics and in computer software. These advances increased the sensitivity of the millimeter-wave telescope which, in turn, created new pressures for continued technical improvements and resulted in more astronomicaldiscoveries. This symbiotic or, perhaps, “symtechnic” cycle is a hallmark of cutting-edge telescopes and continues today.
No books have been published yet on this subjectRather unique monograph presenting one of the key stories in the history of mm-wave observations in the USA (and therefore pretty much in the world)Comes at the right momentThe mm-wave part of the spectrum is about the last window that remains to be opened for ground-based astronomy (gravitational waves being the other part)Currently, two major new telescopes (GTM and ALMA) are being built to operate in the mm-wave bandThey can be seen as a direct spin-off of the Tucson OperationsALMA (see www.alma.nrao.edu/info) is the most internationally and heavily sponsored project (at least 500 million dollar) and will become operational in 2007With these new tools arriving within a few years, the astronomical community is funding an increasing amount of projects in mm-wave astronomy