Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Science

Astronomers Find the Calmest Place On Earth 231

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-can-see-clearly-now dept.
The Narrative Fallacy writes "Live Science reports that astronomers in search of the perfect site to take pictures of the heavens have combined data from satellites, ground stations and climate models in a study to assess the many factors that affect image quality — cloud cover, temperature, sky-brightness, water vapor, wind speeds and atmospheric turbulence. They have pinpointed the coldest, driest, calmest place on earth, known simply as Ridge A, 13,297 feet high on the Antarctic Plateau. 'It's so calm that there's almost no wind or weather there at all,' says study leader Will Saunders, of the Anglo-Australian Observatory. 'The astronomical images taken at Ridge A should be at least three times sharper than at the best sites currently used by astronomers.' Located within the Australian Antarctic Territory, the site is 89 miles from the PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) international robotic observatory. The new site would be superior to the best existing observatories on high mountain tops in Hawaii and Chile, Saunders says. 'Because the sky there is so much darker and drier, it means that a modestly-sized telescope would be as powerful as the largest telescopes anywhere else on earth.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Astronomers Search For the Calmest Place On Earth

Comments Filter:
  • by jamstar7 (694492) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:42AM (#29286421)
    but I still think the best spot for observational astronomy has to be the far side of the Moon. You've got several thousand miles of light and EM shielding, and a good couple weeks' seeing a month when the Sun goes down. Once the 'scopes cool off, there's no warping. What's not to love?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      but I still think the best spot for observational astronomy has to be the far side of the Moon.

      But the downside is that it costs like $100 billion to build and man[1] one there. I doubt the Antarctic place would approach one billion.

      [1] Not sure our robotic remote repair technology is up to the task.

      • by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:15PM (#29286905) Journal
        And the antarcitc site comes with its' own problems, Since it isn't windy, any man-made smog will stay there. You're going to need to burn fuel for the generators, heating, transport, etc., and in cold temperatures you're going to get the water vapor in the exhaust crystalizing, forming ground-level fog. Since it's so calm, it'll just accumulate, then condense on the cold optics. Have fun seeing when your mirror's frosted over with an inch of rime.
        • by NatasRevol (731260) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:25PM (#29287065) Journal

          Fortunately, it's on a mountain ridge. The smog/fog will go....down.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Avalain (1321959)
          You don't need to burn fuel. You can just set up a windmill and a solar array! Oh, wait....
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          I just love it when people pronounce as impossible something that's been happening for two years...

        • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:46PM (#29288353)

          Since it's so calm, it'll just accumulate, then condense on the cold optics. Have fun seeing when your mirror's frosted over with an inch of rime.

          Presumably you put the generator a sufficient distance away to minimize any disturbance to the optics, or to seeing quality. The area gets almost no precipitation and probably no animal life, so anything you lay on the ground will remain undisturbed. In this sense it seems like an ideal place to run an automated telescope, if you can get past the somewhat difficult access issue.

          Regarding the "condensing on the optics" problem, astronomers have hundreds of years of experience dealing with this issue. The simplest approach is to slightly warm the optics using resistive heaters. As long as the optics are slightly warmer than the surroundings, any water in the air will condense somewhere else. You don't want too much heating, since then you form convective air currents above the mirror that harm the seeing conditions. However with some reasonably accurate temperature sensors and a feedback controller, the condensation problem is straightforward to solve.

        • Not to mention the shoggoths.
    • by john83 (923470)

      ...Once the 'scopes cool off, there's no warping...

      That heating and cooling (which would be substantial) sounds like it might do some warping of its own. Can anyone quantify that? Does Hubble have problems with heating & cooling as it falls in and out of the earth's shadow?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      >>>best spot for observational astronomy has to be the far side of the Moon... What's not to love?

      Funny you mention "love" because there's no women on the moon, or on that ridge in Antarctica, which is a major drawback of accepting either of those jobs. Oh wait. It's just like my current job.

      • by kat_skan (5219) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:10PM (#29287735)

        Funny you mention "love" because there's no women on the moon, or on that ridge in Antarctica, which is a major drawback of accepting either of those jobs.

        Aw, the solitude's not so bad. The guy you really gotta feel sorry for is the midget they crammed inside the Hubble to draw everything he saw and drop the pictures back to Earth, message-in-a-bottle style.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hoggoth (414195)

        > there's no women on the moon, or on that ridge in Antarctica, which is a major drawback of accepting either of those jobs.

        Don't worry, at the end of a highly paid 3 year stint, your replacement will arrive and you will be able to go home a wealthy man...

        or will you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Iron Condor (964856)

        Funny you mention "love" because there's no women on the moon, or on that ridge in Antarctica, which is a major drawback of accepting either of those jobs. Oh wait. It's just like my current job.

        Don't worry - either place will be so cold that you'll need your ID to tell which sex you are.

        The absence of women will just mean not to have to contend with PMS on a regular basis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bennomatic (691188)
      The problem is getting the data back to Earth. I would assume that it would be an un-staffed observatory, in which case, you'd need to do one of the following:
      • send up a courier to swap out SD cards every few weeks.
      • set up a network connecting the station with a transmitter which has line-of-site to the Earth.
      • put a couple of satellites in orbit which are in line-of-sight to the far side of the moon, so that the data could be relayed back to Earth.

      The last option is probably the cheapest, but it's st

    • What's not to love?

      You could probably build a thousand very fine mountain observatories for a hundredth the cost.

  • Umm, right. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:43AM (#29286435) Homepage
    It's also in the Middle of Nowhere. So getting to it is going to be very expensive.

    Anyhow, we're on to you, Mr. I'm-extraordinarily-antisocial Astronomer. We are not going to support your social avoidance issues with a multimillion dollar playpen. Just take your meds!
    • So, no light pollution either. Double bonus.

      FYI, a lot (most, perhaps, even.) of the activity in antarctica already is astronomy/aeronomy projects, so there is precedent.

      • no light pollution either.

        Well, except for those several months of the year when you have to contend with 24/7 light pollution emanating from Sol.

    • by photonic (584757)

      It's also in the Middle of Nowhere. So getting to it is going to be very expensive.

      I once saw a presentation at a conference on telescopes, in that case about a similarly quiet location Dome C [wikipedia.org], also in Antarctica. They had pretty advanced ideas, including cost estimates. The shipping costs of a container by boat and then by some sort of big snowmobile weren't that ridiculously expensive. I forgot the numbers, but it was probably several orders of magnitude cheaper than sending anything to space and probably even cheaper than loading a big telescope in the back of your Boeing 747 [usra.edu]. Expect s

    • The place to build observatories has always been a compromise of "middle of nowhere" and reachable (e.g. from a city). Eventually, all of these observatories got swallowed by the growing cities.
      Now that you can operate observatories automatically (remote control) or semi-automatically (submit your to the local technician or astronomer), building it in the middle of nowhere is a slightly smaller problem than it used to be.

    • by pavon (30274) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:59PM (#29287555)
      Oh, give me a home where the penguins roam
      And the frigid astronomers play
      Where seldom is heard a single word
      And the skies are not cloudy all day

      How often at night when the heavens are bright
      With the light from the glittering stars
      Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
      If their glory exceeds that of ours

      Home, home on Ridge A
      And the frigid astronomers play
      Where seldom is heard a single word
      And the skies are not cloudy all day

      Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free
      The breezes so calm and light
      That I would not exchange my home on Ridge A
      For all of the cities so bright
  • by TheBilgeRat (1629569) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:43AM (#29286443)
    Isn't that where the second Stargate resides?
    • by sarlos (903082)
      No, that Stargate was destroyed by Anubis, duh! We now have the original one from Giza back in Cheyanne Mountain, under NORAD... Such a noob!
      • by afidel (530433)
        Actually wasn't it the Giza one that was destroyed when they launched it from the X-302 during the attack? Then the alternate stargate from the Russians was returned which was the one originally in Antarctica.
        • Re:Antarctica... (Score:5, Informative)

          by DarthBart (640519) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:40PM (#29287299)

          The Antarctic gate was in storage after being retreived from McMurdo.
          The original Giza gate was in use at SGC until it was beamed up into Thor's ship before it crashed into the pacific.

          Then the A-Gate became the primary because the G-Gate was thought lost in the Pacific, but it was infact retrieved by the Russians and they ran their own gate program.

          It was the A-Gate that was destroyed by Anubis. The G-gate was then purchased back from the Russians after they figured out that Anubis's gate-blower-upper-thingy was destroyed.

          Yes, I'm a Gate Geek.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sarlos (903082)
          Nope, the one in Giza was used to escape a crashing Asgard ship, after which the Antarctica Stargate was moved to Stargate Command. The Russians recovered the Giza Stargate from the ocean floor and started their own Stargate program. Later, a new weapon developed by Anubis led to the destruction of the Antarctica Stargate. Stargate Command arranged a deal to lease the Giza Stargate from the Russians, and 'purchased' it outright by giving the Russians a Daedalus-class ship (the Korolev).

          See: http://en. [wikipedia.org]
  • by pablo_max (626328) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:44AM (#29286455)

    Hey..I can see my house from here.

  • by billlava (1270394) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:46AM (#29286497) Homepage
    Quick, before anyone else can, let's raise some venture capital and build a few resorts there.

    The commercial practically writes itself!
    Ridge A villas, your ticket to paradise on earth!*


    *Ridge A Villas is not responsible for hypothermia, loss of limbs due to gangrene, or Abominable Snowman attacks. Any lawsuit filed against Ridge A Villas must be filed in Antarctica county district court jurisdiction within 90 hours of the incident.
  • Yea I think that I need some calm spot too. It's too hectic in Boston.

  • Miles? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:50AM (#29286553)

    89 miles

    Could someone convert that into a number the rest of the world understands?

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:53AM (#29286607)

    Located within the Australian Antarctic Territory

    Note that the USA, Russia, China, and many other countries do not recognize this territory as being in any way Australian.

    • by drwho (4190)

      Neither does then Penguinista Republic, and the other nations of the far southern hemisphere. But talk is cheap and land is available so these countries let the Northerners make a lot of noise and build their huts because it's too much bother to throw snowballs at them. There are limits to the tolerance that the Southern Nations has shown, so don't press your luck. In fact, the amount of fish the North is taking from Southern waters is a bit high and needs to be reduced. But go ahead, build your telescope.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by argent (18001)

      But France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by LWATCDR (28044)

        But what about Vatican City and Liechtenstein?

      • But France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom do.

        And half of those countries don't even share a monarch with Australia.

        • by argent (18001)

          Quentin Bryce is head of state for France and Norway?

          • But France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom do.

            And half of those countries don't even share a monarch with Australia.

            Quentin Bryce is head of state for France and Norway?

            Quentin Bryce is not the monarch of any of the countries at issue.

      • But France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom do.

        Not really.

        Might as well be precise here: There are seven nations that are making territorial claims in Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, NZ, Norway, and the UK. NO OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD recognizes any of their claims. In particular, the claims made by these seven countries overlap in various places as they do not generally recognize each others claims.

    • And the Nation of the Australian Antarctic Territory does not recognize the USA, Russia, China an... Australia... as countries! :P

      Our ill-tempered super-penguins with frickin' lasers will CONQUER THE WORLD! MUHAHAHAHAAAA!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by H0p313ss (811249)

      Located within the Australian Antarctic Territory

      Note that the USA, Russia, China, and many other countries do not recognize this territory as being in any way Australian.

      Despite the fact that the USA, Russia and China are not even in the southern hemisphere!

  • by xant (99438) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:54AM (#29286609) Homepage

    > The new site would be superior to the best existing observatories on high mountain tops

    Except for the fact that it's in fucking Antarctica? I think the researchers currently in Hawaii would be pretty annoyed to have to move. :-)

    • Though I'm assuming it's nothing like Antartica, it looks like it still might get a little nippy at some of those observatories in Hawaii.

      http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=19.825294,-155.472518&spn=0.005834,0.007521&t=h&z=17 [google.com]

      Of course, I'm living in Minnesota now, so it's still probably shorts and t-shirts weather.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Nighttime lows only get down to -4C (25F) so yeah basically t-shirt weather to a midwesterner.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Newsflash, plenty of telescopes already reside in Antarctica, some within walking distance of the South Pole (They had one installed). A small colony of scientists spend winters there (not permanently). The idea of sticking a research station with nuclear batteries in there is not out of the question. Certainly not if they make it automated.

  • by Zantac69 (1331461) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:54AM (#29286617) Journal
    ...the danger of fire is very low - take note, Mount Wilson Observatory!
    • by raddan (519638) *
      You make fun, but I have a friend who actually was a firefighter in Antarctica, at McMurdo. It's not an easy job, especially when you consider that all of your normal methods for putting a fire out won't work there. We humans have the darndest ability to make fire wherever we go. This particular fellow is now a firefighter in Iraq. Apparently Antarctica was too easy for him.

      The guy who works in the office next to my brother figures out how to put fires out in zero-g. Fortunately (although not so for
  • by pen (7191)
    Calmest place on Earth? Wow! Sounds like the perfect vacation spot for me to get away from the stressful city life!
  • by d474 (695126) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:02PM (#29286735)
    I wonder why the Katabatic winds [wikipedia.org] don't blow there. I thought the entire continent was pretty much consumed by these winds. Learn something new everyday.
  • I wonder about the utility of this telescope. It is claimed that the images obtained will be 'almost as good as' those from Hubble. Perhaps during most of the year, but during Antarctic summer, the sun shines the whole day, so the telescope will be useless a great portion of the time. Or, maybe it's not simply an optical telescope? In either case, the cost of building and maintaining such an observatory are high. If it is to be manned, higher still. If it is build on the ice pack, it had better generate ver

    • Also you realize every spot on earth has an average of 12 hours of sunlight a year. Just distributed differently depending on your latitude.

      So you may get 3 months where it is to sunny to do real work. (time to write you papers) but you also get 3 months of 24 hours of operation during the winter. Between that you can ramp up and down. Yea it is bit crazy for HR but still you get the same amount of functionally as any other earth telescope.

      • > Yea it is bit crazy for HR...

        There is already one remote-controlled telescope in Antarctica. No need for permanent staff. Astronomy has not been done by looking through eyepieces for quite a while.

      • by Anonym1ty (534715)
        The transparency of the Antarctic atmosphere allows stars to be observed, even when the Sun is at an elevation angle of 38` which is the highest possible elevation of the Sun and can only be reached at midday in December.
    • by careysub (976506)

      There is a perpetual shortage of good viewing time on high resolution instruments, so the more we can add at reasonable cost the better. Space observatories are extremely expensive, so any close runner-up on Earth will be an excellent deal.

      This looks like an excellent site for one or more automated observatories - think of it as a cheap Hubble on Earth. Servicing will be available when needed (repairs and upgrades) for negligible cost (compared to the cost of shuttle launch ), and building the observatory t

  • One drawback (Score:2, Redundant)

    by cunniff (264218)

    It can only see half the sky due to being very close to the South Pole. Near-equatorial telescopes can see 80% or more of the sky over the course of the year. A polar telescope would be useful for statistical surveys, etc. but would miss, on average, 50% of observations unique to one point in the sky.

    • The sky coverage is a compromise, but a good one, since it includes the very interesting southern Milky Way. They should be able to do some amazing science with this thing!

      How much of the year can they use this thing? Midnight sun and all that? The South Pole is astronomically dark for 6 weeks, then it's twilight or daylight the entire rest of the year.

      ...laura

    • > It can only see half the sky due to being very close to the South Pole.

      For deep sky work that doesn't matter. The universe is the same in every direction when you look out far enough.

  • So ... where is it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mbone (558574)

      It's 89 km from Plato [slashdot.org] - a Chinese-Australian robotic observatory at "Dome A".

      That's at 80 deg 22' S 77 deg 21' E [unsw.edu.au] and 4093 meters above sea level.

      I have to wonder if it's that much better than PLATO that there is a need for 2 observatories 89 km apart.

  • No Seven Eleven. No Mickey D's. Sounds like a sucky place to work.
  • I thought the calmest place on earth was in the Dandelion Patch. Time for a break!

  • How can a place have no weather? Every single place on the surface planet has weather of some description all the time.

  • One thing I don't get- you need a fair amount of power for the systems during the winter. You run gas (?) powered generators to do this- this generates tons of waste heat. My guess is that even in Antarctica piping this volume of heat into the ice will eventually cause problems, and if you vent it to the air you're going to mess up the observing.

    I assume there's a plan for this- anyone know?

  • by chord.wav (599850) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:56PM (#29288505) Journal

    No weather at all? Wonder what those people will talk about:

    - God it's so nothing out there!
    - You tell me, I've been out there the whole morning! I can't stand this nothingness anymore...
    - Hey, have you seen the snow today? It's kind of yellower today isn't it?

  • by Livius (318358) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:18PM (#29288839)

    ...because now that it's set a record, it will be full of tourists.

  • (southern lights)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_(astronomy) [wikipedia.org]

    wouldn't these auroras make skygazing in antarctica like trying to stargaze in the middle of new york city? (light pollution)

    i know they don't go all the time, but at that far south, wouldn't you get them pretty frequently?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_(astronomy)#Frequency_of_occurrence [wikipedia.org]

    The aurora is a common occurrence in the Poles. It is occasionally seen in temperate latitudes, when a strong magnetic storm temporarily expands the auroral oval. Large magnetic storms are most common during the peak of the eleven-year sunspot cycle or during the three years after that peak.[citation needed] However, within the auroral zone the likelihood of an aurora occurring depends mostly on the slant of IMF lines (the slant is known as Bz), being greater with southward slants.
    Geomagnetic storms that ignite auroras actually happen more often during the months around the equinoxes. It is not well understood why geomagnetic storms are tied to Earth's seasons while polar activity is not. But it is known that during spring and autumn, the interplanetary magnetic field and that of Earth link up. At the magnetopause, Earth's magnetic field points north. When Bz becomes large and negative (i.e., the IMF tilts south), it can partially cancel Earth's magnetic field at the point of contact. South-pointing Bz's open a door through which energy from the solar wind can reach Earth's inner magnetosphere.

IF I HAD A MINE SHAFT, I don't think I would just abandon it. There's got to be a better way. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.

Working...