Astronomers put the finishing touches to the AST3-1 telescope on Antarctica. Image Credit: Texas A&M University
After months battling extreme conditions in Antarctica, astronomers have successfully installed the first of three Antarctic Survey Telescopes (AST3-1) at one of the world’s most isolated observatories, the Plateau Observatory (PLATO-A) at Dome Argus, the highest ice feature on the Antarctic continent.
Thanks to its exceptionally cold, dry air and stable atmosphere, Antarctica is the ideal place to build an observatory and the powerful new Antarctic Survey Telescopes promise to reveal images never before captured by a ground-based array.
The automated, half-metre wide telescopes will upgrade an array of four smaller scopes already at the observatory.
The new array will be infinitely more effective than the older equipment.
The fully steerable telescopes, all with 110 megapixel CCD camera’s (the largest single piece detectors in use) will be capable of capturing objects, like extrasolar planets, usually confined to space telescopes.
The international team, led by astronomers at Texas A&M University, hopes the new array will give scientists the chance to investigate areas of deep space usually observed by space telescopes at a fraction of the current cost.
As well as searching for extrasolar planets, the team hopes the Antarctic Survey Telescopes will help scientists understand the complex physics behind supernova explosions.
As the automated array will be equipped with a computing system that analyses data in real time, it should be possible to capture these mysterious events as they evolve.