Measurements at the South Pole confirm the expectation that the sky is routinely much darker in the near infrared and much more transparent in the mid-infrared than at any other ground-based observatory. Ongoing near infrared observations with the 60-cm telescope show that it is possible to operate an astronomical telescope successfully during the Antarctic winter. Atmospheric turbulence confined to an inversion layer with a depth of less than two hundred meters above the ice results in median ground-level seeing of 1.7 arcseconds at visual wavelengths. Microthermal measurements with balloon sondes show that the seeing above the inversion layer is typically less than 0.4 arcseconds. The thin turbulent boundary layer, stable upper atmosphere, and low surface windspeeds provide circumstances appropriate for image stabilization with adaptive optics. Conditions at higher sites on the polar plateau are predicted to be better. These site characteristics suggest that the Antarctic Plateau has unique advantages for ground-based wide-field imaging at near infrared wavelengths and for high angular resolution observations at mid-infrared wavelengths, and that a second generation of larger telescopes at the South Pole could provide a valuable complement to the new 8-10 m telescopes now being commissioned in Hawaii and Chile and to airborne and space-based telescopes to be deployed during the coming decade.
American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts #192
- Pub Date:
- September 1998