The Polar regions provide unique locations for observing layers of the upper atmosphere and outer space. This page provides an introduction to Polar Astronomy, and to some of the most wonderful places on the planet where people work, and what they do there.
This stamp shown above, which was an IPY release by Australia Post, has a wealth of information about Polar Astronomy. The telescope is the SPIREX telescope at the South Pole and the image behind is of organic molecules in space - an infrared image that resulted from data taken by this telescope when at the Pole. Professor Michael Burton wrote a paper which discusses this image! The base to lower right is Dome C, with the foreground building being the AASTINO observatory. All these activities actually took place a few years before IPY, but they reflect the endeavour to develop the science of astronomy in Antarctica, for which the PLATO observatory at Dome A is the IPY project.
To find out more, join Michael Burton in the Above The Poles Live Event.
INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY: IYA
The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery.
To help coordinate this huge global programme and to provide an important resource for the participating countries, the International Astronomical Union has established a central Secretariat and an IYA2009 website, www.astronomy2009.org, as the principal IYA2009 resource for public, professionals and media alike.
The Polar Regions are a unique and wonderful place for astronomical observations. For example, PLATO is an international experiment at the new Chinese base at Dome A, operating completely autonomously since January this year (there is no-one at Dome A over winter). Its purpose is to measure properties of the atmosphere that determine how well an astronomical observatory would operate. Dome A is possibly the best site on the surface of the Earth for a wide range of measurements of the cosmos.
Information can be found from the project webpage that includes data from several of the experiments, including webcams (see image below). Of course, being dark in the middle of the polar winter, it is difficult to see anything in the pictures from about March to September, but the simple fact that this observatory continues to operate, nearly a year after it was left unattended for the year, at the most remote location on the planet, is an amazing feat of itself.
Mid-winter webcam image from the instrument module looking towards the CSTAR telescopes illuminated by moonlight, Dome A
image: sunset at South Pole, Chris Demarest, National Science Foundation
The Dark Sector at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. This area is named the Dark Sector as no light pollution is allowed to pollute the area during the 24-hours of darkness during the winter. Telescopes located there are used for a variety of astrophysical research. Dr. Steve Alexander, National Science Foundation.
The IceCube Neutrino Detector is a neutrino telescope currently under construction at the South Pole in deep Antarctic ice. Thousands of spherical optical sensors are being deployed at depths between 1,450 and 2,450 meters in the ice. The main goal of the experiment is to detect high-energy neutrinos. The neutrinos are not detected themselves. Instead, the rare instance of a collision between a neutrino and an atom within the ice is used to deduce the kinematical parameters of the incoming neutrino. Current estimates predict the detection of about one thousand such events per day in the fully constructed IceCube detector. More information.
The IceCube lab at the South Pole. The cables that carry the signals from the light sensors more than two kilometers below the surface enter through the cylinders at either end of the building.
The inside of the hotwater drill building where a 2450 m deep, 60 cm wide hole is being melted to prepare to deploy light sensors.
An overview of the drill camp. The large reel holds over 2.5 km of drill hose. To the right two cosmic ray detecting tanks for the surface IceTop array are in place.
The light sensors inside an IceTop tank. After the water in the tanks has frozen, the tanks are made light tight and the snow is backed filled around the tanks.