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Our knowledge of the universe comes from recording the photon and particle fluxes incident on the Earth from space. We thus require sensitive measurement across the entire energy spectrum, using large telescopes with efficient instrumentation located on superb sites. Technological advances and engineering constraints are nearing the point where we are recording as many photons arriving at a site as is possible. Major advances in the future will come from improving the quality of the site. The ultimate site is, of course, beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, such as on the Moon, but economic limitations prevent our exploiting this avenue to the degree that the scientific community desires. Here we describe an alternative, which offers many of the advantages of space for a fraction of the cost: the Antarctic Plateau.
We present 2.2 μm maps of four southern HII regions. Although each of these objects has been extensively studied at radio wavelengths with low spatial resolution, they have so far (with the exception of G333.6 – 0.2) received little attention in the infrared. As a first step towards understanding the structure of these objects we have therefore produced images of each in the K-band (2.2 μm) continuum.
Despite its superb optical and radio observatories, Australia is essentially blind to the entire submillimeter and far-infrared spectrum. The importance of this spectral region can perhaps best be illustrated by reference to Figure 1, which shows the flux of the galaxy NGC253 as a function of frequency.
Conditions on the high Antarctic Plateau would appear to be extremely favourable for a wide range of astronomical research. Before a decision can be made on constructing an observatory, data are required on site conditions at the most promising locations. To enable these data to be collected, a Lockheed Automated Geophysical Observatory is being purchased. This facility will be fitted with a suite of astronomical site-testing instruments, and deployed to several sites on the Antarctic Plateau. This program will allow a definitive assessment of the site conditions to be made by the end of this century.
The University of NSW’s Automated Patrol Telescope is a modified Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera, now used for CCD imaging of astronomical objects. The f/1 Baker-Nunn optical design gives a 30° field of view with an approximately spherical focal surface of radius ≈500 mm. While the focal plane curvature is tolerable across the 1.4° × 1.0° field of the present CCD, it becomes unacceptable when a larger CCD is used. In addition, the use of glass filters in the highly convergent beam produces intolerable spherical aberration. We present a design modification to the original Baker-Nunn which enables a 5° diameter flat field to be produced when using B, V, R or I filters. By making this modification, we plan to perform multicolour imaging, using a new large-format CCD with a 2.9° × 1.9° field of view.
Antarctic and Southern Ocean science is vital to understanding natural variability, the processes that govern global change and the role of humans in the Earth and climate system. The potential for new knowledge to be gained from future Antarctic science is substantial. Therefore, the international Antarctic community came together to ‘scan the horizon’ to identify the highest priority scientific questions that researchers should aspire to answer in the next two decades and beyond. Wide consultation was a fundamental principle for the development of a collective, international view of the most important future directions in Antarctic science. From the many possibilities, the horizon scan identified 80 key scientific questions through structured debate, discussion, revision and voting. Questions were clustered into seven topics: i) Antarctic atmosphere and global connections, ii) Southern Ocean and sea ice in a warming world, iii) ice sheet and sea level, iv) the dynamic Earth, v) life on the precipice, vi) near-Earth space and beyond, and vii) human presence in Antarctica. Answering the questions identified by the horizon scan will require innovative experimental designs, novel applications of technology, invention of next-generation field and laboratory approaches, and expanded observing systems and networks. Unbiased, non-contaminating procedures will be required to retrieve the requisite air, biota, sediment, rock, ice and water samples. Sustained year-round access to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean will be essential to increase winter-time measurements. Improved models are needed that represent Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the Earth System, and provide predictions at spatial and temporal resolutions useful for decision making. A co-ordinated portfolio of cross-disciplinary science, based on new models of international collaboration, will be essential as no scientist, programme or nation can realize these aspirations alone.
Gattini and CSTAR have been installed at Dome A, Antarctica, which provide time-series photometric data for a large number of pulsating variable stars. We present the study for several variable stars with the data collected with the two facilities in 2009 to demonstrate the scientific potential of observations from Dome A for asteroseismology.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. The atmospheric conditions at Dome C deliver a high sensitivity, high photometric precision, wide-field, high spatial resolution, and high-cadence imaging capability to the PILOT telescope. These capabilities enable a unique scientific potential for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents a series of projects dealing with the distant (redshift >1) Universe, that have been identified as key science drivers for the PILOT facility. The potential for PILOT to detect the first populations of stars to form in the early Universe, via infrared projects searching for pair-instability supernovae and gamma-ray burst afterglows, is investigated. Two projects are proposed to examine the assembly and evolution of structure in the Universe: an infrared survey searching for the first evolved galaxies at high redshift, and an optical survey aimed at characterising moderate-redshift galaxy clusters. Finally, a large-area weak-lensing survey and a program to obtain supernova infrared light-curves are proposed to examine the nature and evolution of dark energy and dark matter.
The Antarctic Plateau holds great promise for optical astronomy. One relatively unstudied feature of the polar night sky for optical astronomical observing is the potential contamination of observations by aurorae. In this study we analyse auroral measurements at South Pole Station and show that during an average winter season, the auroral contribution to the B band sky brightness is below 21.9 B mag arcsec−2 for 50% of the observing time. In V band, the median sky brightness contribution is 20.8 mag arcsec−2 during an average winter. South Pole Station is situated within the auroral zone and experiences strong and frequent auroral activity. The Antarctic locations of Dome C and Dome A are closer to the geomagnetic pole where auroral activity is greatly reduced compared with that of South Pole Station. Calculations based on satellite measurements of electron flux above the Antarctic Plateau are used to show that at Dome C, the contribution to sky background in the B and V bands is up to 3.1 mag less than that at the South Pole. The use of notch filters to reduce the contribution from the strongest auroral emission lines and bands is also discussed. The scientific potential of an extremely large telescope located at Dome C is discussed, with reference to the effect that auroral emissions would have on particular astronomical observations.
The near infrared sky spectral brightness has been measured at the South Pole with the Near Infrared Sky Monitor (NISM) throughout the 2001 winter season. The sky is found to be typically more than an order of magnitude darker than at temperate latitude sites, consistent with previous South Pole observations. Reliable robotic operation of the NISM, a low power, autonomous instrument, has been demonstrated throughout the Antarctic winter. Data analysis yields a median winter value of the 2.4μm (Kdark) sky spectral brightness of ˜120μJy arcsec−2 and an average of 210 ± 80μJy arcsec−2. The 75%, 50%, and 25% quartile values are 270 ± 100, 155 ± 60, and 80 ± 30μJy arcsec−2, respectively.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. The atmospheric conditions at Dome C deliver a high sensitivity, high photometric precision, wide-field, high spatial resolution, and high-cadence imaging capability to the PILOT telescope. These capabilities enable a unique scientific potential for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents a series of projects dealing with the nearby Universe that have been identified as key science drivers for the PILOT facility. Several projects are proposed that examine stellar populations in nearby galaxies and stellar clusters in order to gain insight into the formation and evolution processes of galaxies and stars. A series of projects will investigate the molecular phase of the Galaxy and explore the ecology of star formation, and investigate the formation processes of stellar and planetary systems. Three projects in the field of exoplanet science are proposed: a search for free-floating low-mass planets and dwarfs, a program of follow-up observations of gravitational microlensing events, and a study of infrared light-curves for previously discovered exoplanets. Three projects are also proposed in the field of planetary and space science: optical and near-infrared studies aimed at characterising planetary atmospheres, a study of coronal mass ejections from the Sun, and a monitoring program searching for small-scale Low Earth Orbit satellite debris items.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. Conditions at Dome C are known to be exceptional for astronomy. The seeing (above ∼30 m height), coherence time, and isoplanatic angle are all twice as good as at typical mid-latitude sites, while the water-vapour column, and the atmosphere and telescope thermal emission are all an order of magnitude better. These conditions enable a unique scientific capability for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents an overview of the optical and instrumentation suite for PILOT and its expected performance, a summary of the key science goals and observational approach for the facility, a discussion of the synergies between the science goals for PILOT and other telescopes, and a discussion of the future of Antarctic astronomy. Paper II and Paper III present details of the science projects divided, respectively, between the distant Universe (i.e. studies of first light, and the assembly and evolution of structure) and the nearby Universe (i.e. studies of Local Group galaxies, the Milky Way, and the Solar System).
We have developed a 350 μm radiometer to perform automated site testing in remote regions of Antarctica. In summer 2000–2001 the instrument operated at Concordia, a new station under construction at Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau. We present the results, and compare them with the atmospheric opacity measured at the South Pole in the same five-week period. During these five weeks, observing conditions at Dome C were, on average, substantially better than those at the South Pole.
The cold, dry, and stable air above the summits of the Antarctic plateau provides the best ground-based observing conditions from optical to sub-millimetre wavelengths to be found on the Earth. Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope (PILOT) is a proposed 2 m telescope, to be built at Dome C in Antarctica, able to exploit these conditions for conducting astronomy at optical and infrared wavelengths. While PILOT is intended as a pathfinder towards the construction of future grand-design facilities, it will also be able to undertake a range of fundamental science investigations in its own right. This paper provides the performance specifications for PILOT, including its instrumentation. It then describes the kinds of projects that it could best conduct. These range from planetary science to the search for other solar systems, from star formation within the Galaxy to the star formation history of the Universe, and from gravitational lensing caused by exo-planets to that produced by the cosmic web of dark matter. PILOT would be particularly powerful for wide-field imaging at infrared wavelengths, achieving near diffraction-limited performance with simple tip–tilt wavefront correction. PILOT would also be capable of near diffraction-limited performance in the optical wavebands, as well be able to open new wavebands for regular ground-based observation, in the mid-IR from 17 to 40 μm and in the sub-millimetre at 200 μm.
The Carina Nebula is an extremely bright southern HII region embedded in a giant molecular cloud and contains some of the most massive stars known in our Galaxy. We are undertaking a multi-wavelength study of the Carina Nebula in order to examine the detailed kinematics and distribution of the molecular and ionised gas, and to look for further evidence of ongoing star formation. Here we present the results of the initial molecular cloud observations which were made by observing the 12CO(1−0) emission with the Mopra antenna. The observations reveal the clumpy morphology of the molecular gas, and allow us to identify many interesting regions for follow-up observations.
In 2008 January the 24th Chinese expedition team successfully deployed the Chinese Small Telescope ARray (CSTAR) to Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau. CSTAR consists of four 14.5cm optical telescopes, each with a different filter (g, r, i and open) and has a 4.5°×4.5° field of view (FOV). Based on the CSTAR data, initial statistics of astronomical observational site quality and light curves of variable objects were obtained. To reach higher photometric quality, we are continuing to work to overcome the effects of uneven cirrus cloud cirrus, optical “ghosts” and intra-pixel sensitivity. The snow surface stability is also tested for further astronomical observational instrument and for glaciology studies.
Antarctic astronomical site-testing has been conducted using autonomous self-powered observatories for more than a decade (the AASTO at South Pole, the AASTINO at Dome C, and PLATO at Dome A/Dome F). More recently autonomous (PLATO) observatories have been developed and deployed to support small-scale scientific instruments, such as HEAT, a 0.6 m aperture terahertz telescope at Ridge A, and AST3, a 0.5 m optical telescope array at Dome A. This paper reviews the evolution of autonomous Antarctic astronomical observatories, and discusses the requirements and implications for observatories that will be needed for future larger-scale facilities.