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China to build a new telescope array in Antarctica

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-12-18 13:16
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SHANGHAI -- China is planning to install a new telescope array around the South Pole, and its prototype has recently completed trial operation in the frigid continent.

The new project, named Antarctic TianMu Time-domain Astronomical Observation Array, is expected to consist of 100 small-diameter, large-field telescopes in the Antarctic region, with a single one covering a 10,000-square-degree sky area.

These optical telescopes will carry out continuous observation during the polar night every year, according to their designers from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory (SHAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The array's prototype was transported to China's Zhongshan Station during the country's 39th Antarctic scientific expedition. Two Chinese icebreakers kicked off the expedition in late October 2022 and traveled more than 60,000 nautical miles over 163 days.

Starting from February 20, 2023, the prototype completed trouble-free observations for 248 consecutive days and obtained a large amount of data during the Antarctic polar night.

The preliminary analysis showed that the prototype's photometric accuracy of stars brighter than 9th magnitude in images exposed for 30 seconds reached one-thousandth of a stellar magnitude, verifying the feasibility of the prototype design, said Zhou Dan, the prototype's chief engineer from SHAO.

The prototype is China's first astronomical observation equipment in Antarctica based on drift scanning charge coupled device (CCD) technology that allows the telescope to track celestial objects without a driving mechanism, according to Zhou.

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