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This is the first by our new editor YusefK and we would all like to welcome him to the team!
When you picture the world’s best site for astronomy, places like the Gemini Observatory in Chile or the W.M. Keck in Hawaii probably come to mind. Well think again, because the new epicenter of observing could be the coldest place on earth, Antarctica. After performing a careful analysis of the continent, scientists from America and Australia have pinpointed a prime location for ground based research. Several countries have already laid claim to the icy real estate, such as China, France, Russia and South Africa. The success of these countries’ scientific bases led to the development of more stations. We could owe our future understanding of the universe to those who work and live in this region.
Radio astronomers have already conducted research in the polar area. It was Martin Pomerantz who postulated that Antarctica was the best place for ground based astronomy. He was correct, but only under certain wavelengths. Until now, those who wanted to see the universe were out of luck. Nevertheless, the new site found by American and Australian scientists is expected to yield images three times sharper than today’s best observatories. Those of us who spend clear nights under the stars understand the importance of certain atmospheric factors. Things like water vapor in the air, temperature changes and darkness greatly affect our observing.
The location of this new site is a frozen plateau called Ridge A. Ridge A’s atmosphere is steady enough for average instruments to perform better than today’s common observatories. Imagine the potential of an eight inch Cassegrain in perfect weather conditions and the images would be stunning, when the larger facilities are established. The night sky above the summit is perfect for astronomical observing because it is calmer, dryer and darker than any ever known. Those who study and live in Antarctica will benefit from this treasure trove of unexplored skies. However, they will have to contend with several inhospitable factors foreign to the common scientist.
Living in Antarctica seems to be a challenge taken by the very eccentric or very passionate. Generally, scientists take a plane to the Falkland Islands and then a ship to Antarctica. There, they work with several professionals in the coldest and driest place on earth. Nevertheless, I have read the quarters are comfortable and the canned food isn’t half bad, either. Scientists work with a diverse group of people for months at a time and under strange and adverse conditions. So, for all budding astronomers and researchers, consider the South Pole for future endeavors in understanding the universe.
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