South Pole Telescope Sees First Light

South pole telescope. Image credit: NSFTelescopes located on the Earth suffer from having to peer through our thick atmosphere. That’s why they’re located at high altitudes, where the air is cold and clear. In fact, the best place on Earth to locate a telescope is in Antarctica – the air doesn’t get any colder or clearer.

The newly constructed South Pole Telescope (SPT) was pointed to the skies for the first time on February 16, capturing images of Jupiter. This was just a test. When it gets up and running, the SPT will help astronomers understand dark energy’s influence on the expansion of the Universe, and precisely measure the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Unlike Hubble, or the major visible light observatories here on Earth, the South Pole Telescope images at the submillimetre spectrum. This is a region in between radio waves and infrared radiation. Using submillimetre observations, astronomers can detect molecular clouds, map galaxy clusters, and chart the cosmic microwave background radiation.

The telescope stands 22.8 meters (75 feet) tall, measures 10 meters (33 feet) across and weighs 254 metric tons (280 tons). Getting it to Antarctica was the problem. Every part of the instrument had to be able to fit inside a C130 cargo plane. They were shipped from New Zealand, and then constructed on site during the relatively warm Antarctic summer.

Original Source: NSF News Release