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China Plans to Build Observatory at South Pole
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China plans to build an observatory at the South Pole, setting up 400 telescopes there over the next 10 years in cooperation with the United States, Australia and France.

The observatory will be built at Dome A, the highest point on the continent at 4,093 meters above sea level. Dome A is located at latitude 80.22 south and longitude 77.21 east, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

"The images taken by the telescopes at the South Pole may be almost as good as those of the Hubble Space Telescope," said Ye Shuhua, a CAS academician.

The South Pole has the clearest sky on Earth, allowing scientists to obtain very sharp images of sky phenomena. In scientific parlance, "seeing conditions" are excellent because Antarctica's bitter cold removes the thermal background radiation that reduces the sensitivity of telescopes in warmer climates.

China has decided to build a third permanent research station at Dome A, which will support the construction of the observatory.

Ye, who is also the director of the China Antarctic Astronomical Center, which was founded at the end of 2006, said the United States and Australia had built telescopes at Dome C Icecap, which is 3,280 meters above sea level at latitude 74.50 south and longitude 123.00 east.

"The telescopes at Dome A may turn out to be more sensitive than Dome C because the wind is not so strong at Dome A," Ye said.

"The cost of the South Pole Observatory is higher than at other sites on Earth, but lower than the cost of a space telescope," Ye said, without specifying how much the observatory will cost.

She said China will cooperate with the United States, Australia and France to build 400 telescopes, each with a diameter of 50 centimeters, in order to explore dark energy and other mysterious substances in the sky.

(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2007)


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