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ARO: Arizona Radio Observatory

Link to ARO Web site

I. General project/facility description

  1. Overview of the facility/project
    The Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO) is a unit of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Its mission is to provide facilities to promote research and education in millimeter and sub-millimeter astronomy within the state of Arizona university system and to contribute to the radio astronomical community at large. The ARO operates the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) 10m on Mt. Graham and the Kitt Peak 12m. Both instruments have long histories and are located in Arizona. ARO operates in association with the instrumentation lab of Professor C. Walker and the Astrochemistry lab of Professor L.M. Ziurys. Both groups have graduate students that are both observers and instrument builders. It also provides some unique facilities to faculty within the state and to the general astronomical community. The organization currently consists of 20 employees, with two more engineers and an additional staff scientist starting this spring.

    The ARO was formed in 2002 from the existing Submillimeter Telescope Observatory (SMTO) and the skeleton crew that ran the former National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) 12m on Kitt Peak. The SMTO was originally a joint project between the University of Arizona and the Max-Planck Institute fuer Radioastronomie. The SMT telescope is now the sole property of the University of Arizona, as is the Kitt Peak 12m. Steward Observatory started operating the 12m facility in 2000, the year NRAO and AUI ceased operations. It officially became property of the University of Arizona in 2003.

    The major areas of millimeter/sub-millimeter science pursued at Steward Observatory include studies of the structure and dynamics of late-type stars and planetary nebula, molecular cloud morphology, star formation, and astrochemistry of interstellar and circumstellar material. These investigations require heterodyne receivers for both sensitive molecular line searches and large-scale mapping of molecular emission. The ARO provides the broad frequency coverage required for many of the scientific studies.. The 12m receivers cover the 65-183 GHz range (2 and 3 mm windows), and the SMT supports 130-500 GHz receivers. Future instrumentation is planned to operate up to 1 THz. Many of these receivers are dual polarization and single sideband. The ARO also supports array receivers, at present, the 345 GHz, seven-pixel Desert Star array, to be followed by SuperCam. ARO is also actively involved in millimeter-wave VLBI, in collaboration with M.I.T. Haystack.

  2. Managing institution and organization
    The ARO is part of Steward Observatory and the University of Arizona, and is therefore integrated into the university system. Its current director, Dr. Lucy Ziurys, is a faculty member in Astronomy and Chemistry. The ARO director reports to the Associate Director of Steward Observatory. Scientific guidance is provided by the Steward Observatory Council. Faculty members participate in ARO, as do graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

  3. Funding source(s)

  4. Construction history and cost
    The SMT was constructed during the period 1992 to 1994. The total cost for the construction of the facilities was $10 million. The project was a joint project between the MPIfR and UA. The 12m construction history can be obtained from NRAO.

  5. Operational history and cost
    The SMT was operated by the SMTO, a joint organization of the MPIfR and UA, during the decade 1992 - 2002. The approximate annual operating budget during this period was $1.5M-$1.7M, depending on the year. The Kitt Peak 12m was operated separately from 2000-2002 by Steward Observatory with a budget of approximately $450K per year. The ARO budget (2002-Present) is approximately $2.3M per year.

II. Technical details

  1. Specifics of telescope/instrument
    The technical characteristics of the ARO telescopes are summarized below. Individual highlights are described in the following sections as well.

  2. New capabilities anticipated/planned in next 5-10 years

III. User profile

  1. % of "open skies" time
    For the year 2003, 34% of observing time went to non UA/MPIfR astronomers (31% KP12m and 37% SMT).

  2. Institutional affiliations of users
    In 2003, ARO users represented some 43 institutions worldwide, roughly half from the US.

  3. Student access, involvement, usage
    The ARO has explicitly stated in its calls for proposals that special attention will be given to graduate students. From the Arizona system, there were 9 graduate student involved in astronomical observations and technical developments at the ARO in 2003. Several of these now have completed their Ph.D.'s using ARO data, and several of them are mid-career. During 2003, there were several graduate students from outside institutions that used ARO, including students from U. Calgary, U.T. Austin, and MPIfR. More recent graduate student users are from U. Georgia, U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, and UA. Graduate student usage for 2003 is greater than 40% for the Kitt Peak 12m and ~25% for the SMT.

    The ARO also encourages undergraduate involvement in observations. During the past 5 years, at least 8 UA undergraduates have participated in research at the ARO, including observations, data reduction and analysis, presentations at meetings, and in publishing papers. Also, the Maria Mitchell Observatory REU program makes use of the ARO yearly. The REU group participates in routine remote observing, monitoring maser emission in hydrogen recombination lines, followed by a visit/observing run at the Kitt Peak 12m, usually in late spring/early summer, involving as many as a dozen undergraduate students.

IV. Science Overview

  1. Current forefront scientific programs

  2. Major discoveries (through 1999)

  3. Science highlights of last 5 years

  4. Main future science questions to be addressed

  5. Synergies with other major forefront facilities

  6. Unique contributions

V. Education/Outreach activities

  1. Visitor facility
    The ARO receives no outside funding currently so outreach activities are done on a "volunteer basis". Both telescopes routinely host small tour groups, at their request. The 12m, for example has participated in the TLRBSE program (Teacher Leaders in Research Based Science Education), allowing a large group of teachers to tour the facility and see it in action. Also, ARO has given tours of the 12 m to Cornell alumnae groups, and to groups sponsored by Harvard/Smithsonian. The 12 m also participates in Kitt Peak tours, sponsored by NOAO, and both telescopes have participated in Astronomy Camp at Steward Observatory.

    The 12 m this spring will also take part in the NASA Astrobiology Institute Arizona-U. Washington exchange. Faculty and graduate students from the life sciences from U. Washington will participate in several days observing at Kitt Peak at 4 facilities, one of which is the 12m. They will do a "lab" concerning observing and identifying organic species in space. Material explaining radio astronomy and molecular spectroscopy will be sent to the participants at U. Washington several weeks in advance. A tutorial will be given at Kitt Peak prior to the observing. The goal is to foster an appreciation for methods and techniques of the astronomical sciences to those from the life sciences, fostering exchange between the scientific disciplines and learning "to speak their language". This program will likely evolve to a yearly event.

    The SMT is also involved in scientific programs at Discovery Park, a space, science, and cultural center located in Safford, AZ. This center was established to help foster an appreciation and interest in science and technology in rural south-eastern Arizona (see The SMT staff gives tours of the telescope, as requested, every Saturday from April through November as part of the Discovery Park Observatory Tours.

  2. Student programs
    The ARO has supported the REU program of Maria Mitchell Observatory on an annual basis. Maria Mitchell receives observing time for remote work and yearly, a group of students from Maria Mitchell come to the telescope to observe. The ARO dorms are made available to the whole group, so they can experience "real observing". As many as a dozen students have come one time to the 12m. Other REU groups would be welcome at ARO.

    The UA itself has very active graduate and undergraduate participation in real-time observing at the ARO. Through SORAL (Steward Observatory Radio Astronomy Lab), it also has graduate student participation in instrument-building for the ARO facilities.

  3. Other (as apply)

VI. Documentation/website URLs

  1. URL of facility website

  2. URL of EPO website

  3. URL(s) of any brief overviews of project/facility

  4. URL(s) of miscellaneous documentation

This page created and maintained for the RMSPG by Martha Haynes Last modified: Tue Mar 1 16:36:23 EST 2005 after review by Tom Folkers.