Astronomers have new plans for a telescope in Antarctica

By AG Staff 15 September 2017
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Antarctica’s icy temperatures creates ideal conditions for viewing star and planet formation.

A GROUP of Australian astronomers have new plans for a telescope to be built on Antarctica, where the cold temperatures will assist them in observing star and planet formation in detail.

So far, several Australian astronomers have collaborated with the Chinese, who established the Kunlun Observatory, also known as ‘Dome A’ in 2009.

Michael Ireland, an astronomer from the Australian National University said that while Australians plan to collaborate further with the Chinese on a telescope that will be built over the next few years, his sights are firmly set on future possibilities.

“These are only about half metre telescopes, which are still very useful, but the big future is thinking what happens with a two to three metre class telescope — the same size as Hubble… What I’m most interested in is joining multiple telescopes together to watch the formation of planets and see the youngest planets in their baby solar systems,” he told ABC News.

Michael explained that in order to do this, the work had to be carried out in Antarctica where there’s very little light pollution, and icy temperatures can subdue the impact of heat radiation created by bigger telescopes that often inhibits the ability of scientists to get a clear picture.

“What usually happens is that the infrared radiation given off by the telescope structures creates a background, which means it’s harder to see the cool objects in the universe,” Michael explained.

“It’s seeing the process of star and planet formation at the fine detail, not just a fuzzy blob, but actually watching individual planets form and orbit their host stars,” he added. 

Michael estimates that the telescope could cost up to $300 million and is currently attending the Antarctic Frontier conference to discuss the impact this kind of technology is having on the the study of astronomy.