Astrophysics

One positive side effect of the "springtime ozone hole" in Antarctica is that it provides favorable atmospheric conditions for observing the celestial dome. This 'window' enables scientists to probe the structure of the Sun and the universe with unprecedented precision. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is arguably one of the best places on earth to study the stars.

Current research includes studies of: the formation of large-scale structure in the early Universe, the origins of star-forming molecular clouds, the origin and evolution of protostars and young stars, and the interaction between molecular clouds and young stars.

Helioseismography
  • Helioseismography is a relatively new branch of astronomy which involves monitoring the frequencies of solar pulses to determine what is happening inside the sun.
  • One scientist has likened the work to 'trying to record the New York Philharmonic from the other side of a concrete wall, while a guy is using a jackhammer on the wall and someone is playing with the volume control.'
  • 'Then, from an analysis of the measured frequencies, you attempt to determine which instruments are being played!'

In addition, the Antarctic continent represents an essentially pristine electromagnetic environment so that the natural environmental levels of electromagnetic signals can be studied over a wide range of geomagnetic latitudes. The measured levels can then be used as the knowledge base for similar geomagnetic latitudes which are occupied by humans but in places where the human-produced interference is so large that the natural background levels can not readily be ascertained.

There is growing concern about human exposure to electromagnetic energy in the frequency range of a few hundredths of a Hertz to several hundred Hertz, the range for which Antarctic measurements can importantly contribute. Hence, it is essential to preserve, insofar as this is possible, electromagnetic cleanliness throughout the Antarctic.

Antarctica is also playing its part in unraveling the mysteries of where the universe came from. It turns out to be the perfect place to study cosmic microwave background radiation, which is believed to be the remaining echo of the Big Bang. The very dry, cold conditions are ideal for scientists (mainly from Sweden and the US) to make measurements that should show whether there is a spatial structure to the background radiation, as predicted by some theories.

Three Reasons Why Antarctica is an Astronomer's Dream Come True
  • During the winter, the South Pole is tilted away from the sun 24 hours a day - it's always dark.
  • The weather conditions are nearly perfect for looking at the stars.
  • Cold air tends to be clear and free of moisture, which can distort light.

Did You Know?
  • Some stars produce only infrared radiation, which we usually think of as invisible warmth.
  • The amount of this radiation that reaches Earth is infinitesimally small and, since water vapor absorbs it, even more is lost as it passes through the atmosphere.
  • Antarctica's thin, dry, cold atmosphere makes it the best place on Earth to detect