Posted on

Turns out astronomers choose Hawaii for powerful telescopes because they want to wear shorts and get a good tan.

Location of Dome A in Antarctica

A new study published in Nature suggests building powerful telescopes in Hawaii and Northern Chile might not be such a great idea. The “seeing” measurement in those locations ranges from .6 to .8 arcseconds. A research team from China measured arcseconds at “Dome A” in Antarctica and found a measurement as low as .13 arcseconds and a median free-atmosphere seeing of .31 arcseconds.

The “seeing” measurement is important because it reflects “atmospheric turbulence that makes stars twinkle or smears star images observed by telescopes”. This means a small-aperture telescope at a site with a low seeing can offer views as good as a larger telescope with a higher seeing.

Dome A in Antarctica is the highest dome on the polar ice cap with an altitude of 13,428 feet. Combined with long periods of continuous darkness, this makes Dome A perfect for viewing night skies with a clear unobstructed view.

Of course, astronomers have to figure out a way to deal with the coldest naturally occurring temperatures on earth – around -144 F degrees at night. Buy hey, shirk the Bermuda shorts and don the parkas. Time to man-up, astronomers.