Exploring the Life Cycle of Galactic Matter from the Bottom of the World

Antarctica's newest far-infrared observatory is now in operation at Ridge A, the highest, driest, calmest place on the ice plateau. Established in a collaboration between the University of Arizona (US) and the University of New South Wales (Australia) the exceptional site is dedicated to international astronomical exploration. Building on the legacy of the AST/RO and Herschel observatories, the 60 cm HEAT telescope is constructing spectroscopic maps of the Milky Way in frequency bands from 0.5 to 2 THz (600 to 150 microns wavelength), where the extremely cold and dry conditions of the Antarctic plateau provide an exceptionally clear view. The HEAT telescope is exploring star forming regions, some of the most important yet enigmatic regions in our Galaxy, and aims to solve the mystery of how interstellar clouds are formed and evolve. The maps that HEAT constructs provide broad context (essentially "finding charts") for large facilities like ALMA, CCAT, and SOFIA and represent some of the newest, most comprehensive views of interstellar matter in our Milky Way Galaxy. Learn more...

A Robotic Observatory at the Coldest Place on Earth

The HEAT telescope is combined with the Australian PLATeau Observatory (PLATO-R), analogous to a "spacecraft bus", from which HEAT derives power and communications. The combination of HEAT and PLATO-R were first installed at Ridge A in January 2012; they comprise a robotic observatory that bears closest resemblence to a satellite observatory: it must operate in a remote, extreme environment without direct human contact for a year at a time. A cube of solar panels provide up to 1 kilowatt of power during the summer, and two small diesel generators provide redundant power during the long winter night. Two Iridium modems using USAP DoD SIM cards provide 24/7 contact with PLATO-R and HEAT and allow uplinking of commands and downloading of instrument telemetry and science data. Learn more...

Ridge A: Where the Stratosphere Goes all the way to the Ground

The Ridge A site was selected from satellite data to be the best location for an astronomical observatory on the Antarctic plateau, and indeed, anywhere on Earth. Located at the summit of the ice plateau at a physical elevation of 13,260' (4040 m) with a typical pressure altitude of 15,200' (4650 m), it lies at the origin of the continent's famous katabatic winds and is perhaps the calmest place on Earth, with typical winds of 4 knots (2 m/s). Even more important for infrared and terahertz telescopes is the extreme cold. Winter temperatures that routinely drop below -100F (-70C) provide for a very dry, stable, clear atmosphere. The extremely low amount of water vapor that results allows observations to be routinely performed here that cannot be done reliably anywhere else on Earth. Learn more...

Constructing a 3D Map of our Milky Way Galaxy

The HEAT telescope is exploiting the exceptional weather at Ridge A to construct a spectroscopic map of the Milky Way at terahertz frequencies (far-infrared wavelengths), where the critical spectral emission features of the dominant forms of carbon are located (carbon atoms at 492 and 809 GHz, carbon ions at 1900 GHz, and the prominent carbon-bearing molecule CO, seen at regularly-spaced intervals starting at 115 GHz). HEAT will construct a carbon map of the Southern Milky Way, and make the first ground-based measurements of ionized carbon, the dominant spectral line in the Milky Way, which can otherwise only be observed from airborne or space observatories. By seeing carbon cycling through all of its principal forms, we will follow the full life cycle of interstellar material and witness for the first time molecular clouds being born, evolving, forming stars, and dissolving, in a Galactic context. Learn more...

All of HEAT's images, spectra, and atmospheric measurements are available to anyone online! Our first preliminary data release (DR0) was online in mid-March 2013 and the first data release (DR1) will be available in November 2013. Learn more...

The Collaboration

Funding for the HEAT telescope has been provided by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs under grant ANT-0944335, with logistics from the United States Antarctic Program. The HEAT telescope and PLATO-R are managed at the University of Arizona and the University of New South Wales, respectively.

HEAT and PLATO-R at Ridge A

HEAT and PLATO installed at Ridge A, 23 January 2012

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Latest News

  • 7 November: PLATO-R is back - whew! What a nail-biter... we had almost given up hope. We will fire up HEAT at local noon. Fingers crossed!
  • 14 July: Some bad news: the last of the two engines has died. Engine f6 was a champ but has sputtered its last. Data is downlinked, and HEAT and PLATO-R are nicely put to bed... now to wait for the Sun. First sunrise comes in 5 weeks! Fortunately, we are well calibrated with MHS on NOAA-18/19 and AIRS, so we can keep tabs on conditions while we wait for solar power.
  • 12 June: Lovely dry, cold weather. Precipitable water vapor reached a new low of 45 microns... in the 50-70 micron range for 4 straight days!
  • 23 March: We just broke the -100F mark for the first time in 2013! Precipitable water vapor reached a new low of 90 micrometers, with excellent agreement between the 492 and 809 GHz receivers.

Current Status and Weather

Date : 07h UTC, 24 April 2014
(12 PM local Ridge A time)
1m air Temperature : -65C (-85F)
Surface air Temperature : -69C (-92F)
Winds (est'd) : GRID E at 5 kt
Atm. Pressure : 574 mbar
Pressure altitude : 4540 meters (14,800 ft)
Precip. water : 0.14 mm
Receiver Status : 809 GHz : OFF
1461 GHz : ON
FFT Spectrometer : ON
Mixer temperature : 67K
Power to Cryocooler : 95 watts (ON)
Total power to HEAT : 180 watts (ON)

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Live! from Ridge A...