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Australian scientists have discovered the coldest, driest place in the world on Australian soil and they say this could be the hub for a new generation of advanced astronomy.
The area known as Ridge A is deep in the heart of the Australian Antarctic Territory - about 1000 kilometres from the South Pole - and following the investigations of a joint US-Australian research team possesses all the characteristics of a perfect setting to build a space observatory.
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Already the areas near Ridge A are being developed for astronomy with a Chinese telescope being constructed 150 kilometres away at an area called Dome A and another more than 2000 kilometres to the east at Dome C, where a French/Italian telescope is planned for 2012.
The low infrared background and high atmospheric transparency are the principal advantages of Antarctic Plateau sites for astronomy. However, the poor seeing (between 1 and 3 as) negates much of the sensitivity improvements that the Antarctic atmosphere offers, compared to mid-latitude sites such as Mauna Kea or Cerro Paranal. The seeing at mid-latitude sites, though smaller in amplitude, is dominated by turbulence at altitudes of 10–20 km. Over the Antarctic Plateau, virtually no high altitude turbulence is present in the winter.