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The aim of the LUCAS program is to observe chlorophyll and atmospheric molecules in the Earthshine spectrum in order to prepare the detection of life in terrestrial extrasolar planets to be discovered. Actually, observations from Antarctica offer a unique possibility to study the variations of Earthshine spectrum during Earth rotation while various parts of Earth are facing the Moon. Special instrumentation for the LUCAS program was designed and put in the Concordia station in the Dome C. Observations are in progress.
In the recent years, a lot of instruments have been put into operation during the polar summer at DômeC., Then, during the first polar night when the Astro-Concordia sation was open for the first time during winter, about 40 balloons (Azouit & Vernin) instrumented to measure optical turbulence profiles and 2 Differencial Image Motion Monitors (DIMM) were setup. The main results from this first important campaign are found in Agabi et al. (2006). It appears from this first night time observations that almost all the optical turbulence was concentrated in the first 30 m above the ice. At an elevation of 8.5 m above the ice the seeing is about 1″.4, while above an elevation of 30 m the seeing drops down to 0″.36. This last figure is coherent with the estimation from Lawrence et al. (2004) if one takes into account that they were not sensitive to the first 30 m., which corresponds to the turbulent surface layer.
The search for life in extraterrestrial planets is to be tested first with the only planet known to shelter life. If the planet Earth is used as an example to search for a signature of life, the vegetation is one of its possible detectable signature, using the Vegetation Red Edge due to chlorophyll in the near infrared (0.725 μm). We focus on the test of the detectability of vegetation in the spectrum of Earth seen as a simple dot, using the reflection of the global Earth on the lunar surface, i.e., Earthshine. On the Antartic, the Earthshine can be seen during several hours in a day (not possible at our latitudes) and so variations due to different parts of Earth, that is to say oceans and continents facing the Moon could be detected.
The idea of starting an astronomical site testing in Antarctica began during a congress organized by French Académie des Sciences, in 1992, and entitled ‘Recherches polaires-Une Stratégie pour l'an 2000’. At this time, one of us (Vernin 1994) gave a proposal for an astronomical site testing in Antarctica. This proposal was rapidly followed by a meeting between Al Harper (from ‘Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica’, Chicago), Peter Gillingham (from the Anglo Australian Observatory, Australia) and Jean Vernin (from Nice University) at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 1993. It was decided to investigate what was the astronomical quality of South Pole station, each institute bringing its own participation: CARA, the South Pole infrastructure, University of New South Wales, a PhD student and Nice University its expertise and instruments.
The next generation (post-VLTI) of multi-telescope interferometric arrays operated in optical/infrared wavelengths should be kilometric, from 1 to 10 km. The Concordia station offers a unique opportunity to set such an interferometer in the best atmospheric conditions presently known on Earth.
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