Arizona Radio Observatory

The ARO owns and operates two radio telescopes in southern Arizona: A 12-Meter Alma Prototype Telescope on Kitt Peak and the Submillimeter Telescope on Mt. Graham. The telescopes operate for a combined 10,000 hours per year.

About the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO)

The University of Arizona is the only university in the continental U.S. with its own radio telescope, a telescope that’s used to pick up on the radio wave signals in space. It detects naturally-occurring radio waves from celestial bodies like galaxies, comets, and black holes, and from manmade satellites. Radio telescopes can detect dark matter and other galaxies that traditional light telescopes cannot.

The ARO’s 12-meter radio telescope has an antenna that moves as fast as six degrees per second, with less than a second of settling time.

The telescope is used for a variety of research projects aimed at understanding the myriad of molecules now known to exist in outer space and thought to play a major role in the formation of stars and planetary systems, including our own. It is also a key element in the Event Horizon Telescope array that creates images of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies, including the Milky Way. In 2015, scientists used the Arizona Radio Observatory's 12-meter telescope to find a new cometary compound: interstellar methyl isocyanate, CH3NCO.

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University of Arizona Researcher finds new comentary compound using Arizona Radio Observatiory - image of stars and colored colored gasses
University of Arizona Researcher finds new cometary compound using Arizona Radio Observatiory

Additionally, the ARO has received a $1.4-million grant from the National Science Foundation to equip the 12-meter telescope for very long baseline experiments. “Very long baseline” interferometry is a technique astronomers are using to form images of the unseeable. Astronomers at different radio telescopes across the world observe the same target at the same time, recording data on hard drivers, and then using a supercomputer to combine the data and form an image.

The Submillimeter Telescope at the Mt. Graham International Observatory is already part of a network of radio telescopes that will use this technique to take the first picture of a black hole, and the new 12-Meter Alma Prototype Telescope on Kitt Peak will join the roster.