Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earth’s best view of the stars - Antarctica’s Dome C

16.09.2004


A small unmanned observatory high on the Antarctic plateau provides the best star-viewing site on Earth, according to research published today in Nature.



Australian researchers have shown than a ground-based telescope in Antarctica can take images almost as good as those from the Hubble Space Telescope, at a fraction of the cost. "It represents arguably the most dramatic breakthrough in the potential for ground-based optical astronomy since the invention of the telescope," says University of New South Wales Associate Professor Michael Ashley, who co-authored the Nature paper.

"The discovery means that a telescope at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau could compete with a telescope two to three times larger at the best mid-latitude observatories, with major cost-saving implications. "Dome C could become an important ’test-bed’ for experiments and technologies that will later be flown as space missions. Indeed, for some projects, the site might be an attractive alternative to space based astronomy."


Astronomical observations made by Australian astronomers at Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau, 3250 m above sea-level, prove that the site has less "star jitter" than the best mid-latitude observatories in Hawaii, Chile and the Canary Islands.

While Antarctica has long been recognised as having characteristics that make it a potentially excellent site for astronomy, seeing conditions at the South Pole itself (latitude 90 degrees south) are poor due to atmospheric turbulence within 200 - 300 m of the ground. By contrast, Dome C, located at latitude 75 degrees south, has several atmospheric and site characteristics that make it ideal for astronomical observations.

The site’s atmospheric characteristics include low infrared sky emission, extreme cold and dryness, a high percentage of cloud free time, and low dust and aerosol content - features that confer significant benefits for all forms of astronomy, especially infrared and sub-millimetre.

Dome C is 400 m higher than the South Pole and further inland from the coast. Being a "dome" - a local maximum in the elevation of the terrain - it experiences much lower peak and average wind speeds, which has a profound beneficial effect on the performance of astronomical instruments. Like other regions on the Antarctic plateau, it shares the advantages of a lack of seismic activity and low levels of light pollution.

A key issue in considering where to locate new generation ground-based optical telescopes is to choose a site with excellent ’seeing’. Seeing is defined as the amount of star jitter or sharpness of astronomical images, which is affected by atmospheric conditions close to Earth. "The sharpness of the astronomical images at Dome C is two to three times better than at the very best sites currently used by astronomers, including those in Chile, Hawaii and the Canary Islands," says A/Prof Ashley.

"This implies a factor of ten increase in sensitivity. Put another way, an 8 metre infrared telescope on the Antarctic Plateau could achieve the sensitivity limits of a hypothetical 25 metre telescope anywhere else. "It means there’s now a fantastic opportunity now for Australian astronomers to build world-beating telescopes at the site. I expect the romance and adventure of this combination of astronomy and Antarctica will inspire the next generation of young scientists."

The observations at Dome C represent a stunning technical achievement, according to the paper’s lead author, Dr Jon S. Lawrence, a University of New South Wales Postdoctoral Fellow. "We set up a self contained robotic observatory called AASTINO (Automated Astronomical Site Testing International Observatory) at Dome C in January 2004. Powered by two engines, the facility has heat and electrical power that allowed us to communicate with site testing equipment, computers and telescopes via an Iridium satellite network.

"The entire experiment was controlled remotely -- we didn’t turn the telescope on until we returned home," says Dr Lawrence. "When we left there in February we said goodbye to it knowing all that we could do was communicate with it by the phone and the Internet. If we’d needed to press a reset button on a computer or something, there was no way to do so, and the entire experiment could have failed. "As it turns out, we’ve made some exceptional findings and published a paper in Nature before even returning to the site. We’re pretty thrilled about it."

Michael Ashley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unsw.edu.au

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers release most complete ultraviolet-light survey of nearby galaxies
18.05.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht A quantum entanglement between two physically separated ultra-cold atomic clouds
17.05.2018 | University of the Basque Country

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>