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Eye at the Bottom of the World
Jamais Cascio, 16 Sep 04

Who would ever think that building something to function deep in Antarctica in the middle of winter would be the cheap option?

New Scientist reports that astronomers at the University of New South Wales, Australia, have proposed building a new telescope (an "Extremely Large Telescope," no less, with at least a 30 meter mirror) at Dome C, an Antarctic plateau at 75° south and over three kilometers above sea level. Preliminary tests of the location, using an 85 milllimeter scope, showed that the plateau had extremely low atmospheric "jitter" because the location has very low wind speeds and little turbulence in the air. The researchers claim a two-meter telescope in that location -- a moderate size for a professional device -- would be able to image galactic phenomena with a clarity comparable to Hubble. A larger scope would be far better. Dome C could be home to the first serious Earth-based terrestrial planet-finder scope.

According to PhysOrg, the UNSW proposal has another interesting feature: much of it would be built of "icecrete" -- snow compressed to concrete-hardness.

Although a Dome C telescope would be inaccessible during use -- the temperatures that deep in the Antarctic during winter plunge as low as -86° C (-122° F) -- it could be serviced during the summer for far less expense than a trip to an orbital telescope.

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here's a neat story about "icecrete" nee 'pykrete' :D

"Pykrete is a super-ice, strengthened tremendously by mixing in wood pulp as it freezes. By freezing a slurry of 14 percent wood pulp, the mechanical strength of ice rockets up to a fairly consistent 70 kg/sq cm. A 7.69 mm rifle bullet, when fired into pure ice, will penetrate to a depth of about 36 cm. Fired into pykrete, it will penetrate less than half as far — about the same distance as a bullet fired into brickwork. Yet you can mold pykrete into blocks from the simplest materials and then plane it, just like wood. And it has tremendous crush resistance: a one-inch column of the stuff will support an automobile. Moreover, it takes much longer to melt than pure ice. But as strong and eco-friendly as it is, pykrete remains forgotten today save among glaciologists, who express bafflement over why no one has made use of it. "I don't really know why it has languished in obscurity," admits Professor Erland Schulson, director of the Ice Research Laboratory at Dartmouth College."


Posted by: glory on 16 Sep 04

That's very cool, glory -- thanks for that info!

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 16 Sep 04



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