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New CHIME outrigger telescopes boost search for fast radio bursts


In the quest to identify the origins of one of astronomy’s biggest mysteries – fast radio bursts (FRBs) – Canada’s world-renowned telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is getting back-up.

Supported by approximately $10 million in grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the CHIME/FRB Outriggers project has now secured funding to complete the construction of three new radio telescopes to work in conjunction with the main CHIME instrument.

CHIME is an SKA pathfinder telescope located in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. It has had a radical impact on FRB science, allowing scientists to observe the vanishingly brief bursts with exquisite time resolution. CHIME’s limitation, however, has been its inability to identify with any precision where the FRBs were coming from. The new telescopes, known as outriggers, will enable this huge leap.

“The CHIME telescope can currently locate the position of a fast radio burst to a patch of sky equivalent to the size of the full Moon. With the addition of the three new outrigger telescopes, this patch of sky can be reduced to the size of a quarter [a coin with about 24 mm diameter] held at roughly 40 km,” explained McGill University’s Dr Patrick Boyle, senior project manager for the CHIME/FRB Outriggers project.

By pinpointing FRBs, the new telescopes will allow scientists to zoom in on the environments within galaxies from which the bursts originate and, in so doing, narrow down the possible explanations for their existence.

The three outrigger telescopes are smaller versions of the original, set to be built in three locations:

• Near Princeton, British Columbia, on land kindly leased to CHIME by HML Mining Ltd. where construction of the new telescope’s reflector has already been completed.

• At Green Bank Observatory in the US state of West Virginia, where it sits in the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone.

• Hat Creek Radio Observatory in California, where the CHIME/FRB project has partnered with the SETI Institute.

Read more in the full press release from the University of Toronto: https://www.dunlap.utoronto.ca/chime_outrigger/

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