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South Pole Telescope

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Cosmological Research with the 10 meter South Pole Telescope  (University of Chicago)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The South Pole provides excellent viewing of astronomical objects. The cold, dry atmospheric conditions, with minimal interference from atmospheric water vapor, allow the South Pole Telescope to detect cosmic microwave background radiation--energy emitted shortly after the birth of the known universe. By studying this radiation as it reaches Earth, scientists can explore how tiny variations, through gravitational attraction, formed into galaxies and galaxy clusters. The telescope has discovered several previously unknown clusters of galaxies far from Earth.

The telescope is also a powerful tool for exploring dark energy, the mysterious phenomena that may be causing the universe to accelerate.  A polarimeter for the telescope is being developed in a quest to test the cosmological theory that inflation occurred shortly after the birth of the universe.

The 10-meter telescope is funded by the National Science Foundation, with additional funding for construction from the Kavli Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, both of California. Construction--a major logistical challenge--took place over the Antarctic summer (November-February) of 2006-2007, supported by the N.Y. Air National Guard, which flew in supplies. It is operated by a coalition of nine universities and other institutions, representing California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Montreal, Quebec.  Routine support is provided by Raytheon Polar Services Company, the National Science Foundation logistics contractor that supports all U.S. research at the South Pole. 

Education & Outreach

Astronomy facilities offer numerous education and outreach opportunities.  Graduate students in astronomy, physics, and astrophysics train and conduct research alongside professional astronomers, and have spent both summer and winter seasons at the South Pole Telescope.  The data from the telescope's ongoing surveys of the sky will be publicly available for research and study.

The scientists, engineers, technicians, and students on the telescope team share stories, webcasts, and other information with the public about what it's like to explore the universe from the bottom of the planet, primarily through online resources that include blogs, videos, and the website of the Exploratorium--a science center in Chicago. During the International Year of the Astronomy in 2009, the team participated in a global webcast, "Around the World in 80 Telescopes."

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  • South Pole telescope
The South Pole telescope, completed in 2007, is used to tackle cosmological questions about the nature of the universe.
Stephan Meyer, University of Chicago