The telescope that Antarctica broke


First light from any instrument is always exciting but particularly so when exotic locations and exciting goals are involved.  The CORONA experiment offers both.

CORONA is a stellar coronagraph designed to spot extrasolar planets orbiting other stars. It is based at Dome C, some 10,000 feet above sea level in in Antarctica, a location that boasts some of the best seeing on the planet.

The goal of the project is to test the feasibility of operating such a device in the harsh conditions that exist in the Antarctic, where temperatures can drop to -80 degrees C in winter.

The result: at -65 degrees C the telescope showed some strong aberrations in test images of Sirius, probably the result of thermal distortions.

Geraldine Guerri from the Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis in France and buddies say: “The coronagraph could not be operated in these conditions, and thus, no nighttime images are presently available. CORONA has been sent back to France to be modified.”

That must have been disappointing, although their paper puts a brave face on things. Their plan is to eventually build a much more sophisticated coronagraph with adaptive optics.

That won’t be easy and given their experience so far, it looks highly, perhaps overly, ambitious.

Ref: First Light from the Dome C (Antarctica) of a Phase Knife Stellar Coronagraph

2 Responses to “The telescope that Antarctica broke”

  1. […] – the CORONA coronograph proved to be unable to function in Antarctica and was sent back to France. #astronomy # […]

  2. Dear KFC, a linguistic curiosity: in latin languages, we must refer to the oceans by terminating by “co” (masculin): oceano Atlantico, mar (sea) Artico, oceano Indico, oceano Pacífico… On the other hand, continents and islands are terminated by “do” or “da”: Antártida or the lendary Atlantida. Since there is no continent below the Arctic sea, the polar sheet is called Artico and not “Artido”, in contrast to “Antartida”.
    This is different from the English convention, which calls Antarctica to the southern continent. I do not known why. Perhaps because we call our continent as America (instead of Amerida). However this is an accident, due to the name of the homenage to the navegator “Americo” Vespúcio (called in this form by the portugueses). Curiouslly, in “English he is called “Amerigo” Vespucci, so the origin of “ca” in “America” is not obvious.


    The earliest known use of the name America for this particular landmass dates from April 25, 1507. It appears first on a small globe map with twelve time zones, and then a large wall map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in France. Nearby Strasbourg was energized by the Renaissance Spirit of science and innovation. Here the Duke of Lorraine purchased the latest invention of a printing press and recruited a think tank of experts to render a new image of earth as a planet, using the reported findings of European explorers. An accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci’s name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, America, as the other continents all have Latin feminine names.[13]