Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   

Gtower at Sunset - Photo Taken by P.Calisse
Welcome to 2003/04 Antarctic Astronomy Diaries!

We used to call these the South Pole Diaries, but for the past two years we have been operating at both the South Pole and at Dome C, so these are now the Antarctic Astronomy Diaries!

This year we are conducting two quite different programs at the two sites. The site testing program at the Pole is nearly over, and our automated observatory there, the AASTO, is being converted into the operations centre for a completely new experiment, to search for planets around other stars! At Dome C, the site testing campaign gathers apace, and after a successful winter where the AASTINO gathered data autonomously, the suite of experiments is due to be enlarged in order to fully characterise the turbulence in the atmosphere.

To facilitate the new experiment at the South Pole the AASTO, and its nearby tower (the G-TOWER) are being moved to the other side of the Station, nearby to the ARO building in the Clean Air sector. The winterised telescope mount, the G-MOUNT, is to be used for a new telescope, one designed to hunt for planets that are transiting in front of their parent star. In doing so they cause the light level of the star to drop slightly, and by monitoring thousands of stars through the winter, the hope is that some will be caught in the act of transiting. This experiment is being conducted with scientists from NASA Ames Research Centre, near San Francisco in California, and being lead by Dr Doug Caldwell. From UNSW Michael Ashley and graduate student Jessica Dempsey, and from the ANU engineer Mark Jarnyk, are heading to the Pole in January to prepare for the move of the AASTO, and to install the VULCAN photometer to search for the planets. The low levels of scintillation noise, the constant elevation, and the long dark night of the Antarctic winter combine to make this project possible at the South Pole. However, in addition VULCAN is also serving as a prototype for the KEPLER mission, which aims to repeat this experiment from space.

The AASTINO at Dome CLast winter at Dome C exceeded all expectations, with the AASTINO operating completely autonomously for over 100 days. Perhaps the most amazing result came back through the web camera, showing that the skies were clear virtually the entire time, and the wind rarely was enough to even make the Australian flag flutter in the breeze. This summer our principle aim is to install a new experiment to measure the turbulence levels throughout the atmospheric column. Based on our results from last winter, when exceedingly low levels of turbulence were measured from the surface layer above the ice, it now remains to determine whether this applies throughout the entire atmosphere. The MASS instrument, or Multi Aperture Scintillation Sensor, designed by the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory, is being deployed, an experiment involving close collaboration with scientists from France and Italy, as well as the USA and Australia. The Dome C deployment this year are kicked off by John Storey (UNSW) and Anna Moore (from the Anglo Australian Observatory) heading there in November, in order to re-active the AASTINO, followed by Jon Lawrence and students Tony Travouillon and Colin Bonner in January.

You can follow the adventures of the Australian astronomers through these diaries. Read their daily reports and see the pictures they send back as they work to extend the frontiers of science at the end of the Earth!

John Storey's Diaries

Jessica Dempsey's Diaries

Tony Travouillon's Diaries

2003/04 Photogallery

 

2003/2004 Deployment Dates
 
Name Location Deployment Date Return
John Storey
Anna Moore

Dome C
Dome C

12th November
12th November
Early December
Early December
Jon Lawrence
Tony Travouillon
Colin Bonner
Dome C
Dome C
Dome C
5th January
5th January
5th January
Mid-February
Mid-February
Mid-February
Jessica Dempsey South Pole 1st January Mid-January
Michael Ashley South Pole 20th January 12th February
Mark Jarnyk South Pole 20th January 12th February