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This is the best place on Earth for Stargazing – if you can do it



A differential image motion monitor used by scientists to observe potential turbulence in the Antarctic sky.

A differential image motion monitor used by scientists to observe potential turbulence in the Antarctic sky.
image: Zhaohui Shang

Good news, everyone! Astronomers have determined the best place on Earth to study the stars. But if you’re an amateur astronomer hoping to take advantage of this astronomical space, you have to pack up like it’s in the heart of Antarctica, one of the coldest places on the planet.

Dome A – the highest ice dome on the Antarctic plateau – according to the new ones, provides the clearest views of the starry sky at night. research published this week in Nature. Ice domes are the highest parts of ice sheets that rise high above frozen terrain. Antarctica Dome A, although an ideal place for star clusters, is one of them the coldest places on Earthcharacterized by temperature low how –130 degrees Fahrenheit (-90 degrees Celsius). It’s similar at night on Mars.

Brrr.

While the new paper suggests an optimal location for astronomy, the remote location of Dome A, also known as Dome Argus, presents some significant challenges. Scientists hoping to set up camp at the site will have to travel 1,200 kilometers to the interior of the Antarctic continent in addition to dealing with the extreme cold.

Light pollution is a problem for both professional and amateur astronomers, but there is a clearer view of the night sky than to avoid street lights and skyscrapers. Atmospheric turbulence, while providing the stars with a characteristic flash-flash, can obstruct the clear view of space. From this point of view, telescopes at medium latitudes and high altitudes, such as in Hawaii and Chile, are ideal in this respect, as these observatories take advantage of the weaker turbulence found in these locations.

Astronomers have a metric called a visible number the quality of the view of the night sky, which they measure in seconds. The lower the number, the lower the turbulence, and the better the view of stars, galaxies, nebulae, and anything else that astronomers hope. In Hawai’i and Chile, the number is visible in about 0.6 to 0.8 seconds.

In Dome C, another ice dome located on the Antarctic plateau, this number is in the range of 0.23 to 0.36 seconds, which highlights the frozen continent as an ideal place to view the night sky. The boundary layer – the lowest part of the Earth’s atmosphere – is extremely thin here, which results in less turbulence.

Dome C is great, but as the new documentary shows, Dome A is probably better. An international team from China, Canada and Australia made night measurements at the site, which had not been done before, and found the average number of 0.31 seconds and low 0.13 seconds.

The researchers also performed a comparative analysis of two Antarctic sites. Measurements from Dome A at a height of 26 meters (8 meters) were much better than measurements taken at the same height in House C. In fact, measurements from Dome A at this height were equivalent to measurements taken at 66 meters (20 meters). in House C, revealing the former as an excellent location.

“A telescope placed in dome A could overcome a similar telescope placed at any other astronomical location on the planet,” explained Paul Hickson, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study, in a UBC press release. “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 binoculars placed there would have a sharper image and could detect faint objects. “

Not surprisingly, the winter had a detrimental effect on the tools used in the study, as the researchers’ equipment was damaged by frost. An unequipped station equipped with a differential image motion monitor monitored the Antarctic sky for seven months, with temperatures falling to –103 degrees Fahrenheit (-75 degrees Celsius). Bin Ma, the first author of the study and a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said in a press release: “This in itself is a technological breakthrough.” Solving the problem of frost could improve monitoring by 10% up to 12%, according to the study.

In addition to astronomy, Dome A is “a natural laboratory for studying the origin and scattering of turbulence in the boundary layer,” the authors wrote in their paper. “Future measurements of weather, vision and turbulence profile at low altitudes could contribute to a better understanding of the Antarctic atmosphere.”

Obviously, building an observatory on the Antarctic Plateau would be huge logistical commitment. Supplies and personnel would have to be brought in, while the structure itself would have to endure the extreme cool and maybe even changes in the ice. Climate change is likely to represent other complications.

Scientists have finally determined the best place on Earth for astronomy, but can they really do it? We’re excited to find out.


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