Chinese Scientists Want To Build An Observatory At The Argus Ice Dome
Astronomers have found that the so-called Argus ice dome, the highest structure of its kind in Antarctica, is an ideal place for conducting astronomical observations. There you can see the maximum possible number of stars both with the naked eye and with telescopes. The article with the scientists' conclusions is available in the scientific journal Nature.
"A very small amount of atmospheric interference, coupled with a constantly clear and dark sky, as well as a low level of thermal noise, make this area an ideal place to build optical or infrared telescopes. Such Antarctic observation devices will not be inferior in image quality to larger installations built in mid-latitudes," the scientists write.
Today, one of the main problems for astronomical observations is the light pollution of the sky. Scattered illumination of cities and infrastructure is brighter than the light of most stars in the night sky. According to scientists, 80% of the World's inhabitants live in regions with high levels of light pollution, and in developed countries, their share is almost 99%.
Therefore, all the latest ground-based observatories are being built in the most remote and sparsely populated areas of the planet. For example, the European Southern Observatory and several American telescopes are located in the Chilean Atacama desert, while other observatories are built on the slopes of various volcanoes on the Hawaiian Islands.
In addition to the low level of light pollution, these regions have two important advantages. They are located at a relatively high altitude relative to sea level, which means that photos of the night sky show less distortion and interference due to dust and turbulent airflows. Thanks to this, astronomers can view space objects with very small angular dimensions, that is, the most invisible to observers from Earth.
A group of Australian and Chinese astronomers led by Binh MA from the national astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that there is an even more favorable point for observations on the territory of Antarctica.
Scientists came to this conclusion by experimenting with telescopes and cameras that Chinese engineers developed for the Kunlun polar station, which is located on the Australian Antarctic territory. It is located near to the so-called ice dome Argus (or dome A), the highest massif of the ice of Antarctica. It is located at an altitude of 4 thousand meters above sea level.
This area of Antarctica is considered the coldest place on Earth: temperatures there often reach -80 °C, and in the past, they reached -90 or even -98 °C. Therefore, to work in such conditions, engineers had to create almost "space" optical and electronic components of cameras and telescopes.
Two similar devices were installed on the territory of" Kunlun " at the beginning of last year. They are located on special retractable masts that can rise to a height of eight meters. Over the following months, these devices received about 45 thousand images, the analysis of which allowed Bin MA and his colleagues to very accurately assess the level of interference that occurs at The Earth's surface and different altitudes.
According to their data, the Argus dome is significantly superior in this respect to Atacama, Hawaii, and all other areas of Antarctica, including the neighboring CIRCE dome, where scientists recently conducted similar measurements. In some cases, the researchers note, the cameras produced images of almost "cosmic" quality, distinguishing objects with an angular size 5-8 times smaller than the smallest stars in the most successful images from high-altitude telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.
Moreover, to get the perfect image quality, the telescope here can be set to a much lower height. This is since the particularly dense layer of the atmosphere at the surface of the Argus dome was about twice as thin as in other areas of the Antarctic.
Thanks to this, the 2.5-meter telescope installed at this point in Antarctica will surpass the quality of images obtained by larger six-meter telescopes built in the middle latitudes of the Earth. Scientists hope that such considerations will convince the Chinese government to approve the construction of their proposed KDUST Observatory project, which will study the darkest and dimmest objects in the Universe.