The Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) was founded in 1979 by the Max Planck Society (MPG) and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and expanded in 1990 with the Spanish Instituto Geografico Nacional (IGN). The Institute has its headquarters in Grenoble and operates two observatories: the 30-metre telescope on the Pico Veleta near Granada in Spain, and the NOEMA interferometer on the Plateau de Bure in the French High Alps.
NOEMA (Northern Extended Millimeter Array) is currently the largest ground-based astronomical project in Europe with a total budget of 48 million euros. It is funded by the IRAM partner organizations: Max Planck Society in Germany, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France and Instituto Geographico Nacional in Spain. Construction of the observatory started in 2013; NOEMA is expected be completed by 2019 with twelve dishes.
Radio astronomy of wavelengths in the millimetre range plays a key role in astrophysics. Whereas optical telescopes are geared mainly towards the observation of hot celestial objects, such as stars, radio telescopes allow researchers to investigate the cold universe at temperatures of only a few degrees above absolute zero (- 273.15 degrees Celsius).
They enable the scientists to find objects which optical instruments cannot observe, as they are surrounded by cosmic dust and interstellar clouds. At the same time, radio astronomy allows researchers to analyze interstellar molecules and cosmic dust – key elements in the formation of stars and galaxies and thus for the evolution of the universe.