An unlit view of the dazzling illumination of civilization makes you feel like you are standing on the shores of eternity thanks to an unobstructed view of the night sky. But there is one place on Earth where the sights extend a little further than anywhere else.
Scientists have measured the intelligibility of stars at a major research station in Antarctica and found that it exceeds the current high points for astronomy. The result may not be surprising, but for most of us it is a bit disappointing.
Dome A is the highest ice dome on the polar plateau of Antarctica. It rises more than 4 kilometers (more than 13,000 feet) from sea level and lies approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from the ocean in the middle of the coldest continent, so it must cool down.
In fact, temperatures can drop as low as -90 ° C (-130 Fahrenheit).
However, if this does not discourage you, the rewards can only be worth your effort.
This frozen peak provides an astronomical perspective like no other, with a view of relatively spotless spots of light pollution, interference from many passing satellites, or even an occasional passing cloud.
“The telescope in Dome A could perform a similar telescope located at any other astronomical location on the planet,” said Paul Hickson, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
“The combination of high altitude, low temperature, long periods of continuous darkness and an extremely stable atmosphere makes Dome A a very attractive place for optical and infrared astronomy. The telescope located there would have a sharper image and could detect fainter objects. “
If you really want to see deeper into the depths of space and time, you have to escape from the nearest part of the atmosphere called the boundary layer. The gases that make up this thin blanket aren’t just clogged with dust and moisture – the heat of the earth makes them sparkle, so the stars seem to flicker.
One way to quantify this annoying flicker is a figure called astronomical vision, which is a description of the apparent diameter of a light source in units called arcseconds.
This number means the difference between the resolution of a point of light as one or more sources, so the less turbulence and clearer vision, the smaller the object (and thus the shorter the second arc).
Currently, the best ground-based telescopes are available to astronomers at altitudes where the boundary layer is relatively thin.
Chile’s majestic Atacama Desert is currently considered one of the best locations for the telescopes that are home to Atacama’s large millimeter field for radio imaging, and will soon host an insanely huge, huge Magellanic telescope capable of overcoming Hubble.
In this corner of the globe, atmospheric conditions can provide astronomical observations of regular values of up to about 0.66 arcseconds. On clear nights, this number could even be halved for a few hours.
Hickson and colleagues measured astronomical vision at Kunlun Station in House A, a Chinese research base that was already considered an attractive place for astronomers.
Another cold inland Antarctic site called Dome C already had estimated values of 0.23 to 0.36 seconds. But no one had good measures against those of Dome A.
By setting his measuring device at 8 meters from the ground, he recorded only 0.13 arcseconds, which placed him in an observation center outside the atmosphere. This number actually reflects a boundary layer only 14 meters thick.
“After ten years of circumstantial evidence and theoretical considerations, we finally have direct observational evidence of exceptionally good conditions in House A,” said astronomer Michael Ashley of the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Before you pack the woolen waves and your trustworthy old binoculars on a night of star gazing, you should know the conditions at House A, which are not only endangered by frostbite. Your device would need to be state of the art.
“Our telescope observed the sky completely automatically at an unmanned aerial station in Antarctica for seven months, with the air temperature dropping to -75 degrees Celsius. It is a technological breakthrough in itself, “says the lead author of the study, astronomer Bin Ma Ma,
Even with advanced technology that could be operated from anywhere warmer, the team had to deal with a broom of ice. Overcoming the obstacle of extreme temperatures could help to see even more by up to 12 percent.
While most readings will never look at the conditions of clear skies in House A, we can all benefit from the universal knowledge of the great astronomical projects that will be prepared in the future.
This research was published in 2006 nature.