Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dome C and the Universe

Concordia Station is a joint French-Italian base located atop Dome C. The top of this ice dome is 3200 m above the continental crust. The station resembles a Mars Base, or the twin Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea. This is an ideal place to study solid Earth geophysics, magnetism, the ozone hole and many other phenomena. We can also study the human factors of setting up a base in a remote location. This photo is courtesy of Concordia, because it gets dark down here!
This is also the ideal place to build a telescope. Dare I admit this is a better site than Mauna Kea. The altitude and extremely dry air create the best atmospheric conditions on Earth. Dome C has as many clear days each year as the Big Island of Hawaii. Thanks to the long nights down here, astronomers could enjoy weeks of continuous viewing. Getting to Antarctica is expensive, but far cheaper than putting telescopes in Space.
Two groups of researchers studied Type Ia supernovae and found that their redshifts appear to be accelerating. Redshift is approximately equal to v/c, the ratio between velocity and the speed of light. Since c was assumed constant (and talk of a changing c was shut out), they concluded that the Universe was accelerating due to an unseen "dark energy". This led to a great deal of attention in the theoretical community, though DE has not gained traction among the wider public.
Flush with their success, the researchers planned a space mission, a Supernova Acceleration Probe. This would be a 2-meter infrared telescope located at L2, on the opposite side of the Moon. Start saving your pennies, for it would take 1000 Shaw prizes to pay for one SNAP mission. In the current climate, funding would be unlikely. Since you all know about c change, how many taxpayers wish to fund a dark energy mission?
Antarctica offers a place where we can study the cosmos without the expense and difficulty of putting telescopes in Space. Thanks to adaptive optics, an instrument here could have better resolution than the Hubble. A large telescope could gather far more light than any conceivable space mission. Even in the infared, this is the best observing spot on Earth.
Those who promote "dark energy" are friends and I wish them all success. Ultimately we have a responsibility to make discoveries that please the public at a reasonable cost. A changing c is a possibility that needs to be addressed. Discoveries of this magnitude reflect well on all of science.
Below is an artist's concept of HALLEY VI, the new British base. The buildings will be on skis so the whole base is mobile. The interior will have skylights, comfortable lounges, and many comforts of home. Though the dark of Antarctica is not in the glare of publicity, science moves forward.


Blogger Rae Ann said...

One of my all-time favorite vacations was to the Big Island where we took a tour to the top of Mauna Kea. The Kecks were still under construction then. I need to dig out some of those pictures. Artarctica is fascinating too.

4:23 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI All:
Not to worry, Q9. I wish we were in Space, would happily ride the shuttle, SpaceShipOne, or the CEV. I hope we visit the Moon, Mars and beyond. Finally I hope we do get to observe supernovae from Space. An upcoming post will thank Michael Griffin for his leadership.

Scientists should also keep one foot on the ground. Whatever planet they are on, they should take their heads out of those equations and listen to nature. Our own planet can tell us a lot, even about Black Holes. They might have missed a singularity beneath their noses!

Antarctica can be an important step. When bases are built by various nations, I see what science fiction writers have forecast for the Moon and planets. Here we can address many of the problems of colonising other worlds. We will always need Earthbound telescopes, and this is the best place to build them.

Rae Ann, the Big Island is always close to my heart. Where else can you see volcanoes and telescopes in one day? I hope to dig up some photos and post them sometime. It's amazing how much fun you can have in shorts and a bikini.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Time traveller said...

Yeah, thought that was where you were coming from. I'm with you on that one.
Not just observatories or research.
Anyone wanting to travel space is gonna have to do hard time training in Antartica. If you cannot survive 12 months out there or in a submarine, you'd go nuts in space.

It does look like a lunar landscape. Though as I've said before with you about doesn't matter whether it's a Hawaiian beach, Antartica, Luna or Mars. You are one walking talking breathing bird of paradise in your
own spacetime corner of the Universe
Here's looking at ya!

7:58 AM  
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Anonymous My Blog said...

Since you all know about c change, how many taxpayers wish to fund a dark energy mission?

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