Exploring the cosmos from its isolated site in Antarctica, a collaborative project aims to unveil details about the Universe’s origins.
In the summer at the South Pole, from November to February, the average temperature drops to minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit [18 ° C]. The sun does not set during this time, making sleeping a challenge. The environment is harsh and dry. And the internet connection at the Amundsen – Scott South Pole Station, which you can access, is slowly deteriorating.
On the other hand, distractions at work are few, and their location is fantastic. The dishes from the local kitchen are great. The best part? There is an incomparable view of the first Universe.
Seeing the oldest light in the Universe
That idea, from the South Pole Telescope (SPT), is not something most of us can imagine when we look up at the sky. Rather than stars and planets, SPT images look like Jackson Pollock paintings. They capture data related to the origin of the Universe and its source for thousands of years.
Since SPT became operational in 2007, it has helped researchers discover more than 1,000 galaxies (including some scarce ones) and has changed our understanding of the time when the first stars were formed, among other revelations. More than 20 universities and research institutes of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), including the Argonne National Laboratory, are collaborating on this initiative.
The 33-foot-long [33 m] telescope uses mechanically built and constructed Argonne to test the cosmic microwave (CMB) base. CMB contains light produced when the Universe is about 380,000 years old. At that time, the baby’s Universe was extremely hot, and the light it made had been in space for some 14 billion years.
“Looking at the cosmic microwave background, drawing our original atmosphere and connecting it to what we see today, forms one of the fundamental pillars of our cosmic model,” said Lindsey Bleem, an Argonne physicist who collects and analyzes data from the cosmological model. SPT.
Antarctica is one of the most beautiful places to see this delicate signal because it is an icy desert and very arid. Water in the air can create “noise” when you look at the sky through a telescope, explains Bleem, making the image vague. The SPT location is as unobtrusive as possible on EarthEarth.
For the most part, scientists can collect and process SPT data from Argonne in Illinois or anywhere else from a distance. But from time to time, repairs and improvements such as the third-generation camera installed in 2017 require a trip to the center during the icy desert.
A remote area can be intimidating, whether it is experiencing severe cold, waiting for supplies to come in, or making sure the equipment is stored and weatherproof. Dehydration alone is “a bit of a challenge and can disrupt the daily flow of energy,” says Clarence Chang, an Argonne physicist specializing in SPT superconducting control devices.