Astronomy meets Antarctica

Tests at the South Pole have shown that the Antarctic plateau offers outstanding sites for astronomical observations. The extremely cold temperatures lead to very low infrared backgrounds and atmospheric water vapor content. This coupled with the very low wind speeds and stable middle and upper atmosphere result in favorable observation conditions for high-resolution imaging. In addition, the long dark winter on the Antarctic plateau allows continuous observations of variable astronomical objects. 

The preliminary site testing with the first optical telescope called CSTAR (the Chinese Small Telescope Array) carried out since the beginning of 2008 shows the Antarctic Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau, is very likely to be the best astronomical site on earth!

CSTAR in the Antarctic Dome A.

Because of this, more three Antarctic Survey Telescopes (AST3) were setup in the beginning of 2012 for observations of supernovas and extra solar planets searching. These telescopes can point and track autonomously with a light and have a foldable dome to keep snow and ice from build up. Also, it includes a precise auto-focusing mechanism designed to make the telescope work at the right focus under large temperature differences. 

AST3, can be detected 92 583 stars in only eight days of observations! There is thus considerable interest in overcoming the technical challenges of operating in Antarctica, so that we can have the obvious advantages in astronomy.



Zhang K Y, Li Z Y, Yuan X Y, et al. Mirror seeing of the Antarctic survey telescope. Adv Polar Sci, 2014, 25(3): 133-137. doi: 10.13679/j.advps.2014.3.00133

Zhengyang Li, Xiangyan Yuan, Xiangqun Cui, Daxing Wang, Xuefei Gong, Fujia Du, Yi Zhang, Yi Hu, Haikun Wen, Xiaoyan Li, Lingzhe Xu, Zhaohui Shang, Lifan Wang. Status of the first Antarctic survey telescopes for Dome A, Proc. SPIE 8444, Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes IV, 84441O (17 September 2012). doi: 10.1117/12.925867

Wang, Lingzhi, Ma, Bin, Hu, Yi, Liu, Qiang, Shang, Zhaohui, Li, Gang, Fu, Jianning, Wang, Lifan, Cui, Xiangqun, Du, Fujia, Gong, Xuefei, Li, Xiaoyan, Li, Zhengyang, Yuan, Xiangyan, Zhou, Jilin, Ashley, Michael C. B., Pennypacker, Carl R., and York, Donald G. Variable Stars Observed in the Galactic Disk by AST3-1 from Dome A, Antarctica. United States: N. p., 2017. doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/153/3/104

Author: Beatriz Bento


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