30 meter telescope

A gateway to the universe

The 30-meter telescope on Pico Veleta in the Spanish Sierra Nevada is one of the two radio astronomy facilities operated by IRAM. Built in only four years (1980 to 1984) at an elevation of 2850 meters, it is one of today’s largest and most sensitive radio telescopes for tracing millimeter waves.

The telescope is a classic single dish parabolic antenna, which allows the exploration of extended cosmic objects such as nearby galaxies and interstellar clouds. Due to its large surface, the 30-meter telescope is unrivalled in its sensitivity and is well adapted to detect weak sources. The surface of the parabola is adjusted to a precision of 55 micrometers, corresponding to the width of a human hair.

The 30-meter telescope is equipped with a series of heterodyne receivers and continuum cameras operating at 3, 2, 1, and 0.9 millimeters. High resolution spectroscopy allows to study the interplay of chemistry and the ongoing formation of stars within giant molecular clouds of the Milky Way and of nearby galaxies, out to the farthest known galaxies of the young universe.

By pointing the telescope towards a celestial source, and then by scanning and tracking the source, one can build up radio images – whether of complete galaxies or regions of star formation in the Milky Way. With its ability to observe simultaneously at several wavelengths, the telescope can produce multiple images.

Scientists are therefore able to obtain detailed maps of the millimeter universe, to look for new, hitherto unknown structures or to comb through the spectra of interstellar objects searching for new molecules.

At the forefront of radio astronomy, the 30-meter telescope in the Sierra Nevada also allows astronomers to access parts of the southern skies and therefore to observe the center of our galaxy.