The best place to see the night sky is the highest dome on the Antarctic Plateau – the coldest place on Earth, where the stars are least visible.
Dome A, or ‘ergus’ – located in the center of East Antarctica at an altitude of 13,428 feet above sea level – has temperatures as low as -144 ° F.
Researchers in Australia and China have designed, built and installed a small telescope system on the ice dome – where atmospheric turbulence is low.
This turbulence – which causes the light to bend as it forms the final stage of its journey to the ground – is one that sees stars flickering when viewed from Earth.
The dome is the best for the densest place on the Antarctic Plateau – the coldest place on Earth, where the stars are ‘least’. Picture, Antarctic night sky (share image)
Researchers in Australia and China designed a small telescope system, painted and built on the ice dome, where atmospheric turbulence is low
“After a decade of indirect evidence and theoretical reasoning, we finally have direct observational evidence of exceptionally good conditions in Dome A,” said paper author and astronomer Michael Ashley of the University of New South Wales.
‘Dom Ant is the highest place in the plateau region of Antarctica, and the atmosphere here is extremely stable, much higher than anywhere else on Earth.’
‘The result is that the flicker of the stars is greatly reduced, and the images of the star are very sharp and bright.’
The researchers placed their telescope system – the Kunlun Differential Image Motion Monitor, which has a 25-centimeter (5.9 in) aperture on a 26-foot-high platform above the surface of the dome.
This elevates the telescopes above atmospheric eddies, along with the steep temperature pronouns found near the ice surface – both of which can interfere with star gauging efforts.
Professor Ashley stated that turbulent stripes are formed when the wind moves in changing topography such as hills, mountains and valleys.
“It causes atmospheric turbulence that bends the wires around until it hits the ground, it’s all over the place and you get these blurred images,” he explained.
Dome A, or ‘Argus’ – located in the center of East Antarctica at an altitude of 13,428 feet above the sea – has temperatures as low as -144 ° F. Picture, peak of Dom A.
However, there is a plateau in Dome A, which is flat for several hundreds of miles in every direction, which means that this environment is comparatively stable.
“It is a very slow moving wind that flows across the plateau which is so smooth that it does not cause much turbulence,” explained Professor Ashoka.
‘What we see as a little disturbance is limited to a very small’ boundary layer ‘- the area between the ice and the rest of the atmosphere.
‘We measured the thickness of the boundary layer in Dome A a decade ago using radar technology and it’s about 14 meters on average, but it fluctuates – it’s almost nothing, and it goes up to 30 meters is.’
The researchers placed their telescope system, which was painted – with a 25-centimeter (5.9 in) aperture – on a platform 26 feet high above the surface of Dome A.
By placing the Kunlun Differential Image Motion Monitor atop a 26-foot-high tower, the team found that it sits above the threshold of about a third of the time frame.
In fact, the system – which takes a picture of the sky every minute – took 45,930 images from above the boundary layer between 11 April and 4 August 2019.
However, according to Professor Ashley, proving that Dom A provided the best place on earth to starve was no simple feat.
“It was very difficult because the comments are made in mid-winter with no humans present,” he said.
Accordingly, the use of infrastructure – power supplies, computers and satellite communications – all had to be ‘managed by remote control’, he said.
During winter, Antarctic latitudes offer distant nights – continuous windows for stargazing that allow for full observations.
One might ask – if the atmosphere is one such obstacle to clarify astronomical measurements – why scientists bother with ground-based telescopes when we, like the Hubble Space Telescope, have the ability to place observatories in orbit.
Professor Ashley explained, “Satellites are much more expensive – we are talking about factors 10 to 100 times the cost.”
‘Another advantage of making Earth-based observations is that you can always add the latest technology to your telescope on the ground – while in space, everything is delayed.’
Furthermore, he said, ‘You cannot easily use a lot of modern integrated circuits because they do not harden radiation. So you end up in space with technology lagging behind on the ground for 10 years or more. ‘
Dome A, or ‘Argus’ – located in the center of East Antarctica at an altitude of 13,428 feet above sea level – experiences temperatures as low as -144 ° F.
With the completion of their initial study, researchers are now considering how to harness the astronomical potential of Dome A.
Professor Ashley said, “Dome A is a great site for astronomical observations, and we must make every effort to participate in an international project to put a large telescope to take advantage of the circumstances,” Professor Ashley said .
“With Antarctica being so close to Australia, this is a tremendous opportunity.”
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.