Coldest, Driest, Calmest Place on Earth

Journal of College Science Teaching, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

Coldest, Driest, Calmest Place on Earth


The search for the best observatory site in the world has lead to the discovery of what is thought to be the coldest, driest, calmest place on Earth. No human is thought to have ever been there but it is expected to yield images of the heavens three times sharper than any ever taken from the ground. A joint U.S.-Australian research team combined data from satellites, ground stations, and climate models in a study to assess the many factors that affect astronomy: cloud cover, temperature, skybrightness, water vapor, wind speeds, and atmospheric turbulence.

The researchers pinpointed a site, known simply as Ridge A, that is 4,053 meters high up on the Antarctic Plateau. It is not only particularly remote but also extremely cold and dry. The study revealed that Ridge A has an average winter temperature of minus 70[degrees]C and that the water content of the entire atmosphere there is sometimes less than the thickness of a human hair. It is also extremely calm, which means that there is very little of the atmospheric turbulence elsewhere that makes stars appear to twinkle. …

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