Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment
CHIME under construction in July, 2015
Location(s) DRAO, OK Falls, BC, Canada
Altitude 545 m (1,788 ft)
Wavelength 400–800 MHz
Built Construction started 2015
First light 2016 (planned)
Telescope style Cylindrical parabolic reflector
Diameter 80 by 100 metres (260 ft × 330 ft)
Collecting area 8,000 m2 (86,000 sq ft)
Mounting Fixed-mount zenith telescope
Dome none
Website Official CHIME site

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is an interferometric radio telescope under construction at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, Canada which will consist of four 100 x 20 metre cylinders (roughly the size and shape of snowboarding half-pipes) populated with 1024 radio receivers sensitive at 400–800 MHz. The telescope's low-noise amplifiers are being built with components adapted from the cellphone industry and its digital processing makes use of high-end computer gaming technology.[1] The telescope has no moving parts and observes half of the sky each day as the Earth turns. CHIME is partnership between the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.


  • Science goals 1
    • How CHIME measures expansion 1.1
  • Technology 2
  • Current status 3
  • See also 4
  • External links 5
  • References 6

Science goals

One of the biggest puzzles in contemporary cosmology is why the expansion of the Universe is speeding up.[2] About seventy percent of the Universe today consists of so-called dark energy that counteracts gravitationally-attractive forces and causes this acceleration. However, very little is known about what dark energy actually is. CHIME will make precise measurements of the acceleration of the Universe to improve our empirical knowledge of how dark energy behaves. The experiment is designed to observe the period in the Universe’s history during which the standard ΛCDM model predicts that dark energy began to dominate the energy density of the Universe and when decelerated expansion transitioned to acceleration.

In addition to its main, cosmological purpose, CHIME will also be well-equipped for other astrophysical science. It will be ideal for discovering and monitoring pulsars and other radio transients, and a specialised instrument is being developed for these science objectives. Further, its daily survey of the sky will enable study of our own galaxy in radio frequencies and is expected to improve our understanding of galactic magnetic fields.[3]

How CHIME measures expansion

CHIME is sensitive to the 21 cm radio light emitted by clouds of neutral hydrogen in distant galaxies. By measuring the distribution of the hydrogen in the Universe—a technique known as intensity mapping—CHIME will make a 3D map of the large-scale structure of the Universe between redshifts of 0.8 and 2.5, when the Universe was between about 2.5 and 7 billion years old. CHIME will thus map over 3% of the total observable volume of the Universe, substantially more than has been achieved by large-scale structure surveys to date, during an epoch when the Universe is largely unobserved.[3] Maps of large-scale structure can be used to measure the expansion history of the Universe because sound waves in the early Universe, or baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), have left slight overdensities in the distribution of matter on scales of about 500 million light-years. This characteristic BAO scale has been well-measured by experiments like Planck and can therefore be used as a ‘standard ruler’ to determine the size of the Universe as a function of time, thereby indicating the expansion rate.[4]

BAO measurements to date have been made by observing the distribution of galaxies on the sky. While future experiments, like The Dark Energy Survey, Euclid and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), will continue using this technique, CHIME is a pioneer in using the radio emission of hydrogen rather than the starlight as a tracer of structure for detecting BAO. Although CHIME cannot be used for the same auxiliary science that galaxy surveys excel at, for BAO measurement CHIME represents a very cost-effective alternative as individual galaxies do not need to be observed.


The choice to use a few elongated reflectors rather than many circular dishes is unusual but not original to CHIME: other examples of cylindrical telescopes are the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope in Australia and the Northern Cross Radio Telescope in Italy. This design was chosen for CHIME as a cost-effective way of arranging close-packed radio antennas so that the telescope can observe the sky at a wide range of angular scales. Using multiple, parallel cylinders gives comparable resolution along both axes of the telescope.

The antennas are custom-designed for CHIME to have good response in the 400 to 800 MHz range in two linear polarisations. Signal from the antennas are amplified in two stages that make use of technology developed by the cell-phone industry. This allows CHIME to keep the analogue chain at relatively low noise while still being affordable.[5]

CHIME is operated as a correlator, meaning that the inputs from all the antennas are combined so that the entire system operates as one system. This requires considerable computing power. The analogue signals are digitised at 800 MHz and processed using a combination of custom-programmed field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) and graphics processing units (GPU). The Pathfinder has a fully functional correlator made from these units, and has demonstrated that consumer-grade GPU technology provides sufficient processing power for CHIME at a fraction of the price of other radio correlators.[3][6][7][8]

Current status

The CHIME Pathfinder telescope, a prototype for the full CHIME telescope.

Construction of CHIME began in 2015 at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) near Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. In 2013, the CHIME Pathfinder telescope was built, also at DRAO.[9] It is a smaller-scale version of the full instrument, consisting of two, 36 x 20 metre cylinders populated by 128 antennas, and is currently being used as a testbed for CHIME technology and observing techniques. Additionally, the Pathfinder will also be capable of making a competitive measurement of the BAO and will become a useful telescope in its own right.

See also

External links

  • Official CHIME site
  • University of Toronto CHIME page


  1. ^ Castelvecchi, Davide (2015). Half-pipe' telescope will probe dark energy in teen Universe"'".  
  2. ^ Andreas Albrecht; et al. (2006). "Report of the Dark Energy Task Force".  
  3. ^ a b c Kevin Bandura; et al. (2014). "Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) Pathfinder".  
  4. ^ Seo, Hee-Jong; Eisenstein, Daniel J. (2003). "Probing Dark Energy with Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations from Future Large Galaxy Redshift Surveys" (PDF).  
  5. ^ Laura Newburgh; et al. (2014). "Calibrating CHIME, A New Radio Interferometer to Probe Dark Energy".  
  6. ^ Recnik, Andre; et al. (2015). An Efficient Real-time Data Pipeline for the CHIME Pathfinder Radio Telescope X-Engine. IEEE 26th International Conference on Application-Specific Systems, Architectures and Processors. CFP15063-USB. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. pp. 57–61.  
  7. ^ Klages, Peter; et al. (2015). GPU Kernels for High-Speed 4-Bit Astrophysical Data Processing. IEEE 26th International Conference on Application-Specific Systems, Architectures and Processors. CFP15063-USB. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. pp. 164–165.  
  8. ^ Denman, Nolan; et al. (2015). A GPU-based Correlator X-engine Implemented on the CHIME Pathfinder. IEEE 26th International Conference on Application-Specific Systems, Architectures and Processors. CFP15063-USB. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. pp. 35–40.  
  9. ^ Semeniuk, Ivan (2013-01-27). "Canadian scientists try to shed light on dark energy".