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Robotic Observatory Opens On Antarctic Plateau

A robotic observatory - PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) - has been completed on one of Earth's most remote locations - the Antarctic Plateau. With temperatures that drop to minus 130 Fahrenheit, at an altitude of 13,000 feet, the automated facility is an 18-day journey from existing research stations.


(Robotic observatory Dome C, Antarctic plateau)

The expedition was lead by the Polar Research Institute of China; the observatory will begin sending data back by satellite in a few weeks, when darkness returns to Antarctica. The automated observatory is powered by solar panels and by small diesel engines during the lightless winter.

PLATO has a total of seven telescopes; equipment from China, the U.S. and the U.K. was assembled by a team at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The Antarctic Plateau is considered one of Earth's prime viewing locations. The air is extremely dry; it also features relatively low wind speeds and less atmospheric turbulence. The site should also be ideal for infrared observations.

The location of the site also figures prominently in one of the site's main goals; the continuous observation of an area of the sky over the pole as the Earth rotates.

Let's hope that the team from the Polar Research Institute has a good repair plan for when the robotic observatory needs to be serviced. Dome C in Antarctica is so remote, and the journey there so difficult, it might as well be on another planet. Perhaps they should consider having Robonaut, the dexterous humanoid telepresence robot, onsite for repairs and maintenance.

Science fiction fans know that we're going to need this kind of automated equipment - and people to service them. In his 1959 short story The Repairman, Harry Harrison wrote about automated hyperspace beacons placed at ideal locations on lonely planets.

The first ships to enter hyperspace had no place to go - and no way to tell if they had even moved. The beacons solved that problem and opened up the entire universe. They are built on planets and generate tremendous amounts of power...

For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix. For long jumps, navigators use up to seven or eight. So every beacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I and the other troubleshooters come in.
(Read more about Harry Harrison's hyperspace beacons)

Update 19-Sep-2019: Take a look at the robot observatory from Space Rating (1939) by John Berryman:

Riggs’ ship was the Little Falls, laden with fuel for the atomic motors of the robot observatories planted on thirty different planets of several nearby suns, and a huge supply of photographic plates to replenish the nearly exhausted magazines of the telescopic cameras.

Placed in many cases on planets where men could not have survived continued existence, the observatories on the planets of the nearer stars were serviced once every three terrestrial years. The exposed plates from the telescopes were removed, developed in the service ship as it sped through the endless wastes of space to its next destination, and run through moving-picture cameras to detect any astronomical occurrences recorded on them.

End update.

Via Robotic Observatory Built on Remote Antarctic Summit and Astronomers reach the top of the Antarctic Plateau.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/7/2008)

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