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At the summit of the Antarctic plateau, Dome A offers an intriguing location for future large scale optical astronomical observatories. The Gattini Dome A project was created to measure the optical sky brightness and large area cloud cover of the winter-time sky above this high altitude Antarctic site. The wide field camera and multi-filter system was installed on the PLATO instrument module as part of the Chinese-led traverse to Dome A in January 2008. This automated wide field camera consists of an Apogee U4000 interline CCD coupled to a Nikon fisheye lens enclosed in a heated container with glass window. The system contains a filter mechanism providing a suite of standard astronomical photometric filters (Bessell B, V, R) and a long-pass red filter for the detection and monitoring of airglow emission. The system operated continuously throughout the 2009, and 2011 winter seasons and part-way through the 2010 season, recording long exposure images sequentially for each filter. We have in hand one complete winter-time dataset (2009) returned via a manned traverse. We present here the first measurements of sky brightness in the photometric V band, cloud cover statistics measured so far and an estimate of the extinction.
HRCAM (High Resolution CAMera) is a Canon 50D 15-megapixel digital SLR camera equipped with a Sigma 4.5 mm f/2.8 fish-eye lens. It was installed at Dome A on the Antarctic plateau in January 2010 and photographs the sky every 15 minutes. Primarily functioning as a site-testing instrument, data obtained from HRCAM provide valuable statistics on cloud cover, sky transparency and the distribution and frequency of auroral activity. We present a first look at data from HRCAM during 2010, including an overview of how we intend to reduce the images. We also demonstrate the potential of stellar photometry by using linear combinations of the in-built Canon RGB filters to convert instrumental magnitudes into the photometric BVR bands.
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.
Despite the absence of artificial light pollution at Antarctic plateau sites such as Dome A, other factors such as airglow, aurorae and extended periods of twilight have the potential to adversely affect optical observations. We present a statistical analysis of the airglow and aurorae at Dome A using spectroscopic data from Nigel, an optical/near-IR spectrometer operating in the 300–850 nm range. The median auroral contribution to the B, V and R photometric bands is found to be 22.9, 23.4 and 23.0 mag arcsec−2 respectively. We are also able to quantify the amount of annual dark time available as a function of wavelength; on average twilight ends when the Sun reaches a zenith distance of 102.6°.
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