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This is the best place on Earth to see the cosmos, astronomers say – CNET



Aurora and stars, as seen from the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in July 2020

Geoff Chen

If you want to get the best possible view of the stars from down here on Earth, you need to prepare for a long journey to the coldest place on the planet. Around 650 miles inland from Antarctica’s eastern edge you’ll find yourself upon a pristine-white plateau, stretching to the horizon: Dome A.

A new study performed by Chinese researchers at the research station located at Dome A, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, suggests it could be the best place on Earth for astronomers to survey the skies. But you have to get there first. 

The trek to Dome A is intense. 

First, you’ve got to get to Antarctica. Not that difficult these days, but you need to take an icebreaker so you can be dropped off at the East Antarctic shoreline. A helicopter carries you from the ship onto the icy continent, and then the real journey begins. From there, you make your way across the ice in a shipping container-like vehicle, pulled by a tractor at around 6 miles (10 kilometers) per hour. It takes about two weeks to arrive at your destination. 

Only then can you begin to set up your telescope on an eight-meter-high platform in the middle of the ice desert. 

That’s exactly what the team of researchers did during the 2018-19 summer — and they report that the atmospheric conditions are so good their views of the night sky are unlike those anywhere else on Earth. 

“The experience was unique and exciting,” says Zhaohui Shang, one of the researchers who was part of the expedition and co-author on the study. “We had very intense work to complete, with only about 3 weeks in summer at Dome A.”


The location of Dome A.

Google Maps

Immaculate sky

What makes the coldest place on Earth particularly good for seeing the cosmos?

“It comes down to the atmospheric turbulence,” explains Michael Ashley, an astrophysicist at the University of New South Wales and co-author on the study. 

“If you go to a good dark site somewhere, you see the stars twinkling and the twinkling is bad.” 

The twinkling, Ashley says, is caused by Earth’s atmosphere and isn’t helpful for astronomers trying to image the cosmos. But in Antarctica, there’s very little turbulence, because it’s so flat and the winds that move across the area are extremely light.

“If you just have winds blowing across a dead-flat snow surface, there’s no opportunity for turbulence to be generated,” he explains.


Ice to see you: the telescope set up at Dome A.

In addition, water vapor can play havoc with astronomy because it absorbs light, particularly in infrared wavelengths. But Antarctica is very dry — the water freezes out — and that’s a huge advantage for those looking to study the sky. Particularly if you want to study the the cosmos in the millimeter wavelength, like the Atacama array in the Chilean desert does.

“We have taken a terahertz telescope there and got spectacular data,” says Ashley.

“And we’re much better than Atacama in terms of site conditions.”

The observations from telescopes at Dome A are around two and a half times better than what you might see at some of the best Earth-based observatories in Chile or Hawaii.  

China plans to build another infrared optical telescope at the site known as the Kunlun Dark Universe Survey Telescope, KDUST. It’s been in the works for about a decade and would see China place a telescope, almost two times as big, at the location.

“At the moment, it’s kind of stalled in a review,” says Ashley. “I think they’re looking at it very closely. And I think this Nature paper should go quite some way to giving it a bit of a push.”

China’s recent scientific endeavors extend well beyond the Earth, too. Last week, the country launched the Tianwen-1 mission. A spacecraft, carrying three robotic explorers, is en route to Mars and is expected to arrive there in February 2021. 

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Puerto Rico's Arecibo Radio Telescope Damaged By Falling Cable – KCCU



A broken cable at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory has torn a gaping 100-foot hole in the dish of one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, taking the instrument offline until repairs can be made.

Arecibo’s massive reflector dish, which is built inside a sinkhole in northern Puerto Rico, was damaged when a 3-inch diameter support cable unexpectedly snapped before dawn on Monday, according to the University of Central Florida, which manages the observatory.

In a photo of the damage, twisted panels that make up the 1,000-foot dish can be seen hanging from the structure or lying on the ground beneath it.

When the cable fell, it also damaged several panels on the Gregorian Dome that is suspended above the dish and houses sensitive receivers to collect signals from space.

“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory, said in a statement emailed to NPR. “Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”

The statement said it is not yet clear what caused the cable to break and it did not give a timetable for repairs.

In an email to NPR, Ramon Lugo III, director of the University of Central Florida’s Florida Space Institute, said that “the removal of the damaged cable and the procurement of a cable to replace the damaged cable” were under assessment.

“We are also working on a determination of the cause of this failure, including non-destructive testing of the remaining cables,” he said, adding that after a full assessment, “we will develop a recovery plan, schedule and budget.”

Since its completion in 1963, Arecibo has played a key role in discoveries ranging from new insights into pulsars to detecting planets outside our solar system. It has figured prominently in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. The observatory was also featured in the film Contact and the James Bond movie GoldenEye.

The observatory held the record for the world’s largest radio telescope until 2016 when an even larger instrument of similar design, known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, was completed in southern China. After testing, FAST officially went online last year.

In 2017, one of Arecibo’s much smaller dishes and a few panels on the main dish were damaged when Category 4 Hurricane Maria raked the island.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

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Top tips for watching the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks Aug. 11 and 12 –



This year’s Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday morning with streaks of shooting stars running across the night sky.

The Canadian Space Agency says that “during the peak, typically in the darkest hours after midnight, up to 50 to 80 meteors per hour can streak across the sky.”

To get an even better view, the agency says to “look up at the sky between moonset and dawn to see the most meteors of the night.”

The Perseids peak every August as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Perseid is the champion of meteors, with more fireballs than those of any other comet, NASA’s research has revealed.

The CSA says that the Perseids take their name from the constellation Perseus because “they appear to fall right from it.

“Right before dawn, when we see the most meteors, Perseus is at its highest point in the sky. The constellation was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy and named after the Greek mythological hero Perseus.”

In 2016, Leslieville resident and Etobicoke native Adam Evans offered these tips to skywatchers who want to take in the Perseid meteor shower:

1. Get out whenever you can.

“If you’re not keen to get up at 5 a.m., you might see a few things in the night sky.”

2. Suppress the instinct to go out and buy a telescope.

“You can take photos of space with a decent SLR camera. Try using a long lens on a tripod.”

3. Before you buy a camera, buy a good pair of binoculars.

“Binoculars are cheap, portable and as good as a small telescope.”

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4. Astronomy is for everyone.

“There’s always something to see … It’s a buffet … I’m taking high-resolution photographs. But astronomy is pretty accessible to people with binoculars or just the naked eye. Right now, Saturn and Mars are visible at sunrise.”

With files from Ted Fraser

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Still want to catch a glimpse of the Perseid Meteor Shower? There is still a chance to watch! –



Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Still good for watching one of the best meteor showers of the entire year? The Perseid Meteor Shower is going on right now, and there are more chances to catch the show, even after its Tuesday night peak.

The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures.

When Should I Watch?

The Perseids are best seen between about 2 a.m. your local time and dawn. The Moon rises at around midnight, so its brightness will affect the peak viewing window.

What is the best way to view the Perseids?

If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes.  (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended because of their small fields of view.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.

Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to August 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — occurring on the morning of August 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.

Remember to let your eyes adjust to the dark, try to go to a darker area outside a city and try to stay off your phone as well to avoid affecting night vision. Enjoy the views!

If you have any photos of the meteor shower and want them featured on our Weather Watcher segment, send them to and include your name and location.

-With files from NASA

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