And unfortunately this is not around the corner …

As an astronomer, you naturally want the best view of the starry sky. Currently, the best performing observatories are located in high elevations along the equator, such as in Chile and Hawaii. But these observatories may face competition. In a new study, researchers reveal the place on Earth where you can best admire the starry sky, in all its glory.

Dome A
According to the researchers, the beautiful sky is best admired from a location they have called ‘Dome A’. This place is located on the Antarctic plateau about 4000 meters above sea level, located in the middle of East Antarctica about 1200 kilometers inland. The team argues that this would be the perfect place to build a telescope. “Dome A is the highest point on the Antarctic plateau and the atmosphere here is extremely stable, much more stable than anywhere else on Earth,” said researcher Michael Ashley. “This means that stars will ‘twinkle’ much less and images will be sharper and brighter.”

Map of Antarctica showing the location of Dome A. 
Image: Xiaoping Pang and Shiyun Wang, Chinese Antarctic Center of Surveying and Mapping

According to the researchers, Dome A is ideally suited to study stars from Earth without atmospheric turbulence. If you’ve ever looked at the stars through a telescope, you may have noticed that the starlight wobbles a bit. This is, for example, due to wind blowing over mountains, hills and valleys, causing friction in the atmospheric boundary layer. “This causes atmospheric turbulence,” explains Ashley. “By the time the starlight hits the ground, it has already spread and you get blurry images.”

Boundary layer
However, this phenomenon hardly plays a role on Dome A. “Only a very slow wind blows so smoothly that it does not cause much turbulence,” says Ashley. Moreover, the boundary layer here is very thin. “We measured the thickness about ten years ago and it is an average of 14 meters,” said the researcher. “It does fluctuate. It drops to almost zero, but can sometimes also reach thirty meters. ” The team found that if they placed their telescope on an eight-meter platform, it would extend beyond the boundary layer about a third of the time.

Benefits
The researchers argue that a telescope on Dome A would be a good choice. “Satellites, for example, are much more expensive,” says Ashley. “They are probably about 10 to 100 times more expensive. In addition, you can always add the latest technology to your telescope on Earth observations, while it is more difficult when a monster is floating in space. ” In addition, building a telescope on Dome A is probably cheaper than anywhere else on our planet. Due to the improved resolution, smaller and fainter stars are more visible. “In fact, this means that we can produce much better images at Dome A,” Ashley continues. “So instead of building a large telescope in a non-Antarctic location, you can also build a smaller one and get the same performance. That makes it cheaper. Finally, Dome A is far from the equator, where the area is shrouded in darkness for a long time. “You can watch a star in Sydney for up to eight hours,” says the researcher, “while you can continuously study a star in Dome A in winter. For some projects, such as searching for planets around other stars, this means that you can continuously observe stars, making it much easier to spot orbiting planets. ”

Important
Dome A may well be one of the most important locations on earth to look deep into the cosmos. “A telescope on Dome A can outperform a comparable telescope in any other location,” argues researcher Paul Hickson. “The combination of high altitude, low temperature, long periods of continuous darkness and an exceptionally stable atmosphere make Dome A a very attractive place for optical and infrared astronomy. A telescope placed there would yield sharper images and thereby detect weaker celestial bodies. ”

Challenges

So the place is very promising. But there are also some challenges to overcome. It can get quite cold there. Because Dome A is so high, it is one of the coldest known and most remote places on earth. Moreover, it is always difficult to build on frozen tundra. However, the researchers argue that the disadvantages of a telescope on Dome A do not outweigh the advantages.

So if it’s up to the researchers, an observatory will be located on Dome A as soon as possible. “Dome A is a fantastic location for astronomical observations,” says Ashley. “We must make every effort to participate in an international project to build a large telescope to take advantage of the conditions.” And who knows what wonderful discoveries will be made from this observatory in the future.

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