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The coldest and most remote spot, the best on Earth for a telescope

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According to an investigation led by the Columbia University (UBC) British, the highest area of ​​the antarctic plateau It can offer the clearest night view of stars on Earth.

The challenge? The location is one of the coldest and most remote places on Earth. The findings were published in Nature.

“A telescope located in the Dome A it could outperform a similar telescope located at any other astronomical site on the planet, “said UBC astronomer Paul Hickson, co-author of the study.” The combination of high altitude, low temperature, long periods of continuous darkness and an exceptionally stable atmosphere makes from Dome A a very attractive place for optical and infrared astronomy. A telescope located there would have sharper images and could detect fainter objects. “

One of the biggest challenges in terrestrial astronomy is overcoming the effect of atmospheric turbulence on the image quality of the telescope. This turbulence causes the stars to blink, and the measurement of their impact is known as ‘seeing’. The less turbulence (the lower the vision number), the better.

“The thinner boundary layer in Dome A makes it less difficult to locate a telescope above it, giving greater access to the free atmosphere,” said UBC astronomer Bin Ma, lead author of the paper.

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Currently, the highest-performing observatories are located in high-altitude locations along the equator (Chile and Hawai’i) and offer views in the range of 0.6 to 0.8 arcseconds. In general, the Antarctica It has the potential to see better, due to weaker turbulence in the free atmosphere, with an estimated range of 0.23 to 0.36 arcseconds in a place called Dome C.

Ma, Hickson, and their colleagues in China and Australia evaluated a different location, Dome A, also known as Dome Argus. Dome A is located near the center of East Antarctica, 1,200 kilometers inland.

The researchers estimated that the location has a thinner boundary layer (the lowest part of the atmosphere, which is influenced by friction from the Earth’s surface) than Dome C. Previous measurements of Dome A were taken during the day. , but the authors report an average night vision of 0.31 arcsec, reaching as low as 0.13 arcsec.

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Measurements at Dome A, taken at a height of eight meters, were much better than those at the same height at Dome C and comparable to those at a height of 20 meters at Dome C.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers’ team’s viewing capabilities were also hampered by frost: Overcoming this problem could improve vision by 10 to 12 percent. But the site is promising, according to Ma.

“Our telescope observed the sky fully automatically at an unmanned station in Antarctica for seven months, with the air temperature dropping to -75 ° C sometimes. In itself, that’s a technological advance.”

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