Robotic Observatory Opens on Antarctic Plateau

A roboticobservatory — PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) — has been completed on one ofEarth's most remote locations — the Antarctic Plateau. With temperatures thatdrop to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit, at an altitude of 13,000 feet, theautomated facility is an 18-day journey from existing research stations.

Theexpedition was led by the Polar Research Institute of China; the observatorywill begin sending data back by satellite in a few weeks, when darkness returnsto Antarctica.The PLATO automated observatory is powered by solar panels and by small dieselengines during the lightless winter.

PLATO has atotal 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.

TheAntarctic Plateau is considered one of Earth's prime viewinglocations. The air is extremely dry; it also features relatively low windspeeds and less atmospheric turbulence. The site should also be ideal forinfrared observations.

Thelocation 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 Earthrotates.

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

Sciencefiction 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 onlonely planets.

The first ships to enter hyperspace had no place to go — andno way to tell if they had even moved. The beacons solved that problem andopened up the entire universe. They are built on planets and generate tremendousamounts of power …

For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for anaccurate fix. For long jumps, navigators use up to seven or eight. So everybeacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I andthe other troubleshooters come in.

(Read more about Harry Harrison's hyperspace beacons)

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

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of - where science meets fiction

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