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Published by: European Southern Observatory on May 08, 2009
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The Messenger
No. 129 \u2013 September 2007
The Messenger 129 \u2013 September 2007
Telescopes and Instrumentation
A New Era in Submillimetre Continuum Astronomy
has Begun: LABOCA Starts Operation on APEX

Giorgio Siringo1
Axel Weiss1
Ernst Kreysa1

Frederic Schuller1
Attila Kovacs1
Alexandre Beelen1, 2
Walter Esch1
Hans-Peter Gem\u00fcnd1
Nikhil Jethava1
Gundula Lundershausen1
Karl M. Menten1
Rol\ue000 G\u00fcsten1
Frank Bertoldi3
Carlos De Breuck4
Lars-\u00c5ke Nyman4

Eugene Haller5
Je\ue000\ue000 Beeman5
1 Max-Planck-Institut \ue001\u00fcr Radioastro-
nomie, Bonn, Germany
2 Institut d\u2019Astrophysique Spatiale,
Universit\u00e9 Paris-Sud, Paris, France
3Ar ge l an de r- I ns t i t ut \ue001 \u00fcr As t r on om i e,
Universit\u00e4t Bonn, Germany
5 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,
Berkeley, Cali\ue001ornia, USA

In May 2007, the Large APEX Bolometer
Camera LABOCA was commissioned
as a \ue000acility instrument on the APEX
12-m submillimetre telescope located at
an altitude o\ue000 5100 m in northern Chile.
The new 870-\u00b5m bolometer camera, in
combination with the high e\ue000fciency o\ue000
APEX and the excellent atmospheric
transmission at the site, o\ue000\ue000ers unprece-
dented capability in mapping submilli-
metre continuum emission. An overview
o\ue000 LABOCA and the prospects \ue000or sci-
ence are presented.

A technological challenge

A new \ue001acility instrument has started op-
eration on the APEX telescope (Atacama
Path\ue000nder Experiment, G\u00fcsten et al.,
2006) as a collaborative e\ue001\ue001ort between
the Max-Planck-Institut \ue001\u00fcr Radioastron-
omie in Bonn (MPI\ue001R), ESO and the
Onsala Space Observatory (OSO). The
new Large APEX BOlometer CAmera
(LABOCA) is an array o\ue001 bolometers de-
signed \ue001or \ue001ast mapping o\ue001 large sky
areas at high angular resolution and with
high sensitivity: a challenging task. Devel-

Observations o\ue001 astronomical objects
\ue001rom ground-based telescopes have to
pierce that screen presented by the at-
mosphere, there\ue001ore requiring techniques

to minimise its e\ue001\ue001ects. The most widely-
used technique is application o\ue001 a switch-
ing device, usually a chopping secondary

mirror (commonly called a \u2018wobbler\u2019), to observe alternatively the source and an area o\ue001 blank sky close by, at a \ue001requen- cy higher than the variability o\ue001 the sky

noise. Invented \ue001or observations with sin-
gle pixel detectors, this method is also
used with arrays o\ue001 bolometers. However,
it presents some disadvantages and the
most evident are, among others, that the
wobbler is usually slow (1 or 2 Hz), posing
a limitation to the scanning speed, and
that not all telescopes are equipped with
a wobbler.

LABOCA has been speci\ue000cally designed to work without a wobbler to remove the atmospheric contribution, using a di\ue001\ue001er- ent technique which well suits observa-

tions with an array o\ue001 detectors. This tech-
nique, called \u2018\ue001ast scanning\u2019 (Reichertz
et al. 2001), is based on the idea that,

when observing with an array, each unit
bolometer looks at a di\ue001\ue001erent part o\ue001 the
sky and chopping is no longer needed. A
modulation o\ue001 the signal is produced by
moving the telescope across the source
\ue000eld o\ue001 interest. The atmospheric contri-
bution (as well as part o\ue001 the instrumental

oped by the Bolometer Group o\ue001 the
MPI\ue001R, LABOCA is the most complex
system ever developed by this group. The
design o\ue001 this new \ue001acility takes advan-
tage o\ue001 the experience accumulated over
several years in developing bolometers
\ue001or millimetric and submillimetric atmos-
pheric windows and operating them on
ground-based telescopes.

The main obstacle, when observing at
millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths,
is our Earth\u2019s atmosphere, which is seen
by a bolometer like a bright screen. It
is as di\ue001\ue000cult as trying to do astronomical
observations in the optical during day-
time. This is largely due to the water va-
pour present in the atmosphere, with
only small contributions \ue001rom other com-
ponents, like ozone. In the submillimetre
range the only sources in the sky brighter
than the atmosphere are the planets
Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (and, o\ue001
course, the Sun and the Moon). All other
celestial objects have weaker fuxes,
usually orders o\ue001 magnitude weaker than
the atmospheric emission. Besides, the
atmosphere is not stable and the amount
o\ue001 water vapour along the line o\ue001 sight can
change quickly, giving rise to instabilities
o\ue001 emission and transmission, called \u2018sky

Figure 1: A \u2018naked\u2019

LABOCA silicon wa\ue001er. Each small square is a bolometer.

The Messenger 129 \u2013 September 2007

noise) will be strongly correlated in all
bolometers and a post-detection analysis
o\ue001 the correlation across the array will al-
low extraction o\ue001 the signals o\ue001 astronomi-
cal interest \ue001rom the atmospheric \ue001ore-
grounds. The post-detection bandwidth is
de\ue000ned by the beam size and by the
scanning speed; relatively high scanning
speeds are ideal. This technique was \ue000rst
tested by the MPI\ue001R bolometer group in
2000 with the MAMBO (Max-Planck Milli-
metre Bolometer, Kreysa et al. 1999) ar-
ray o\ue001 37 bolometers, installed on the
IRAM 30-m telescope (Instituto de Radio-
astronom\u00eda Milim\u00e9trica, Pico Veleta,
Spain; Baars et al. 1987). The same tech-
nique was extensively used in the \ue001ollow-
ing years \ue001or observations with the SIMBA
(SEST Imaging Bolometer Array, Nyman
et al. 2001) bolometer array on the
SEST (Swedish-ESO Submillimetre Tele-
scope, La Silla, Chile; Booth et al. 1989)
telescope, which is not equipped with a
chopping secondary mirror.

The experience with MAMBO and SIMBA
has been essential \ue001or the design o\ue001
LABOCA, which represents the evolution

to a receiver speci\ue000cally optimised \ue001or

the \ue001ast scanning technique. Challenging
technological choices have been imple-
mented in its design. The most evident is
the large number o\ue001 pixels (nominally 295,

see Figure 1), making the correlation re-
moval extremely e\ue001\ue000cient. Another point
is the large post-detection bandwidth.
SIMBA was built \ue001ollowing the same de-
sign scheme as MAMBO: that is both
receivers are optimised \ue001or the di\ue001\ue001erential
technique with a wobbler, and a high-
pass \ue000lter is used to cut o\ue001\ue001 \ue001requencies
below the chopping \ue001requency. LABOCA,
instead, is a true total power system
(without high-pass \ue000ltering) with a large
stable post-detection bandwidth, extend-
ing down to 0.1 Hz. Moreover the reduc-
tion o\ue001 the data acquired in \ue001ast scanning
requires the use o\ue001 special algorithms
(We\ue001erling et al. 2002) and the lack o\ue001 a
so\ue001tware package ready to reduce the
data was the major drawback o\ue001 the \ue001ast
scanning technique applied to MAMBO
and SIMBA. For this reason, in paral-
lel with the hardware development o\ue001
LABOCA, completely new so\ue001tware was
developed, the Bolometer Data Analysis
package (BoA, Schuller et al., in prep.),
which is able to reduce data acquired
with LABOCA in any o\ue001 the possible ob-

serving modes.

APEX is the ideal telescope \ue001or using the
\ue001ast scanning technique as it can move
extremely \ue001ast and its control so\ue001tware
allows new observing patterns which \ue000t
well to the \ue001ast scanning technique. The
5100 metre high site on Llano de Chaj-
nantor, where APEX is located, on the
one hand can make the maintenance
o\ue001 the system uncom\ue001ortable, but on the
other hand provides excellent atmos-
pheric conditions \ue001or most o\ue001 the year.

Technical overview

The detector array o\ue001 LABOCA is micro-
machined on a 4-inch (102-mm) silicon
wa\ue001er where unstructured silicon nitride
membranes carry the composite bolom-
eters. The membranes are only 0.4 \u03bcm
thick and are coated with a thin titanium
\ue000lm which absorbs the incoming radia-
tion. Neutron-transmutation-doped (NTD)
germanium chips (called thermistors), sol-
dered to the membranes, detect the tem-
perature rise due to the absorption o\ue001

the radiation. The array is mounted inside
a cryostat, which uses liquid nitrogen and

liquid helium \ue001or thermal shielding and
pre-cooling o\ue001 the array. A closed-cycle
double-stage sorption cooler is then used
to reach a stable operation temperature
o\ue001 0.285 K. The cryostat is mounted in the
Cassegrain cabin o\ue001 the telescope (see
Figure 2) and the optical coupling to the
main telescope beam is provided by a
series o\ue001 metal mirrors and a lens placed
at the cryostat entrance. A set o\ue001 cold
\ue000lters, mounted on the liquid nitrogen and
liquid helium shields, de\ue000ne the spec-
tral passband, centred at a wavelength o\ue001
870 \u03bcm (345 GHz) and about 150 \u03bcm
(60 GHz) wide (see Figure 3). A monolithic
array o\ue001 conical horn antennas, placed
in \ue001ront o\ue001 the bolometer wa\ue001er, collects
the radiation onto the bolometers. One
LABOCA beam is 18.6 arcseconds wide
(\ue001ull width at hal\ue001 maximum, FWHM)
and the \ue000eld o\ue001 view (FoV) o\ue001 the complete
array covers 11.4 arcminutes. The array
undersamples the sky, with a distance o\ue001
two beams between adjacent pixels

Figure 3: Spectral re-

sponse o\ue001 LABOCA.
The central \ue001requency is
345 GHz and the 50%
transmission is between

313 and 372 GHz.
Figure 2: LABOCA in the Cassegrain cabin o\ue001 the

APEX telescope. The receiver is in the centre o\ue001 the picture. Four o\ue001 the \ue000ve mirrors used \ue001or the optical coupling are visible.

Frequency (GHz)

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