Extreme astronomy reveals the secrets of the South Pole

Extreme astronomy reveals the secrets of the South Pole

The South Pole Telescope (SPT) is ideally located to look deep into the universe. But a group of astronomers is there in the winter very difficult.

Imagine that you do astronomy in a place where there is no night all winter, and the temperature drops to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. But there are hard-working astronomers, enthusiasts who spend year after year at the Antarctic telescope of the South Pole.

It is a harsh environment, but great for astronomical research due to the dry atmosphere (water vapor interferes with observations). Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics even consider building a telescope on the site of Dome A, located about 1,000 miles from the pole and representing a long route from home.

Do they really like to be there for a whole year? And how are the typical everyday life of the Antarctic staff? According to the experimental cosmologist at the University of Toronto, Keith Vanderlin, who spent 11 months there during the winter, this place attracts a certain type of person who does not need a large company to work. His group hesitated between staying super social in common dwellings, or retiring. He also saw people go mad from longing for their families.

“People who have never left their relatives are“ fried ”very quickly. You have developed a weak will, ”he said. “It is necessary to understand that the profession requires you to look into the lens for an hour and do nothing.” Vanderlin came to the National Science Foundation, funded by the South Pole Telescope, in 2008, after receiving his Ph.D. It took him half an hour from housing to the office to check with a colleague whether everything was in order. In general, the work progressed well, except for rare cases of mechanical problems. He recalls how once on Sunday evening power was turned off. It took a long warm-up procedure to revive the telescope on Monday and continue the game.

Extreme astronomy reveals the secrets of the South Pole

South Pole telescope during Antarctic night.

The conditions are harsh, but Vanderlid says that science is worth it. The telescope creates a map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) - the remaining energy from the time when the universe first expanded. This is best seen in the microwave range. Because relic radiation shines through galaxies, Vanderlid says that light is scattered from hot electrons and can manifest as an excess of energy.

“By viewing these small shadows, you are able to figure out where the largest structures of the Universe are located,” he said. “Over time, observing the first chamber at the South Pole, scientists can also learn how galactic clusters grew in different epochs of the Universe, and how dark energy works.”

The second generation camera measures light intensity and polarization. Since relic radiation is seen through galaxies and other structures, scientists can evaluate how the forms of matter change. And this will expand our knowledge of gravity. He said that tiny neutrino particles significantly affect how structures are formed in the Universe and how gravity attracts dust and gas to clusters and galaxies. In 2014, another southern telescope, BICEP2, discovered a polarization mod (mod B), which was originally interpreted as gravitational waves or ripples in spacetime, formed from gravitational interactions. However, further investigation revealed a more mundane explanation: polarization was created due to dust in our galaxy.

Will Vanderlin winter again? He made several summer visits, but said that was enough. “After my departure, I still had nightmares that I was back in the winter,” he says. “It was not a bad experience, but enough for me ... and the thought of repeating everything doesn’t go to me.”

Vanderlin will give a public lecture on his experiences this month in Toronto. If you do not have the opportunity to visit, then watch his presentation on TEDx or read his blog about the year in Antarctica.

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