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Robotic Telescope Installed on Antarctica Plateau

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the j-j-j-just-a-b-b-bit-n-n-n-nippy dept.

128

Reservoir Hill writes "Antarctica claims some of the best astronomical sky conditions in the world — devoid of clouds with steady air that makes for clear viewing. The very best conditions unfortunately lie deep in the interior on a high-altitude plateau called Dome A. With an elevation of up to 4,093m, it's known as the most unapproachable point in the earth's southernmost region. Now astronomers in a Chinese scientific expedition have set up an experimental observatory at Dome A after lugging their equipment across Antarctica with the help of Australia and the US. The observatory will hunt for alien planets, while also measuring the observing conditions at the site to see if it is worth trying to build bigger observatories there. The observatory is automated, pointing its telescopes on its own while astronomers monitor its progress from other locations around the world via satellite link. PLATO is powered by a gas generator, and has a 4000-litre tank of jet fuel to keep it running through the winter. The observatory will search for planets around other stars using an array of four 14.5-centimetre telescopes called the Chinese Small Telescope Array (CSTAR). Astronomers hope to return in 2009 with new instruments, including the Antarctica Schmidt Telescopes (AST-3), a trio of telescopes with 0.5-metre mirrors, which will be more sensitive to planets than CSTAR."

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128 comments

Lots o' jet fuel (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325254)

Wow. 1000 gallons of jet fuel to run on. Hopefully they're using it efficiently, and not just running the generator non-stop.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

gotzero (1177159) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325288)

Better than a reactor... I think the concept is neat as long as they treat the surrounding environment well. Hopefully we will get some groundbreaking research and nice pictures for the rest of us!

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (4, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325366)

Actually, I think I'd prefer an RTG reactor like they use on long-range satellite probes. No CO2 emissions, lasts longer, and any heat you don't use to generate electricity can be used to warm the equipment.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325836)

Actually, I think I'd prefer an RTG reactor like they use on long-range satellite probes
Yea, but do you want to leave that lying around unattended? I imagine it's worth quite a bit more than some diesel generators and jet fuel.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325982)

From the article, it said the telescope is located in Dome A, a hard to reach plateau in Antarctica. If someone has the resources to get to the plateau, I doubt they're going to care about stealing the small RTG.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (2, Insightful)

UseTheSource (66510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326026)

Actually, I think I'd prefer an RTG reactor like they use on long-range satellite probes. No CO2 emissions, lasts longer, and any heat you don't use to generate electricity can be used to warm the equipment.

IANAA (I Am Not An Astronomer), but I would think there would be less distortion if the optics were actually at the same temperature as the ambient air temperature.

Also, if you're doing any sort of spectroscopy, you'd want your detector to be really, really cold and that would be easier to attain in the Antarctic winter. I remember a buddy of mine at NASA/GSFC who worked on a spectroscopy apparatus, and their detector was vacuum insulated and cooled using liquid helium, IIRC.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (3, Informative)

OddThinking (1078509) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326104)

IAAAA (I am an amateur astronomer) and yes, you want the equipment at the same temp as the surrounding air. Otherwise, the equipment will create a local air current, which would cause optical distortions.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326112)

Agreed. You're going to want to keep the optics as cold as possible. But I would think you'd want to keep the batteries, satellite communications, equipment, and other support systems warm.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (5, Informative)

dargaud (518470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326540)

No more RTG in Antarctica since the last signup of the Antarctic Treaty [wikipedia.org] . There used to be automated weather stations [wikipedia.org] (AWS) on the high plateau using RTG of the same generation as what is currently powering the Voyager spacecrafts, but they had to be removed over a decade ago and replaced by large batteries and a combination of wind and solar power.

As for astronomy, the team running this automated experiment at Dome A did it previously at Dome C. I was on the first winterover team [gdargaud.net] in 2005 and monitoring the turbulence for astronomy was one of the main goals. Bigger telescopes are being installed as we speak in time for the start of the 4th winterover in a few days.

Dome A is 1000m higher than Dome C (4200m vs 3200m) but is even harder to reach and the temperature in winter borders on the insane: we had -78C during our winterover so I'll let you imagine at Dome A...

Really cold (1)

professorguy (1108737) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325324)

I've started a car at -44 degrees (not wind chill--that's a mythical concept) and let me tell you, it's not pretty. I think at the really cold temperatures in the antarctic, you really do want to run the generator non-stop. Also, it was litres, so less than 300 gallons.

Re:Really cold (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325376)

You're right, it was liters. 4000 of them.

Re:Really cold (1)

s20451 (410424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325428)

Parent was correct -- 1000 gallons is roughly 4000 litres (the amount specified in the summary).

To put this into perspective, the fuel capacity of the Boeing 737 is between 4700 and 7800 gallons (18000 to 30000 liters), depending on the model. So compared to the 737's range, you'd burn around 4000 litres flying from, let's say, Los Angeles to Denver.

Re:Really cold (1, Informative)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326288)

The reason they use jet fuel instead of gasoline is just because of that. At cold temperatures, gas starts getting more viscous. Jet fuel needs to get MUCH colder to start getting thick and hard to use. They probably only run the generator when necessary.

Re:Really cold (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326794)

The problem with gasoline in those temperatures isn't so much that it gets more viscous--jet fuel gets much more viscous, in fact... The thing is, at those temperatures, gasoline isn't volatile enough to readily burn in an engine, and the compression stroke of a gasoline engine doesn't provide enough heat in those temperatures to elevate the atmosphere in the cylinder to a high enough degree to let the fuel normally burn.

Diesels engines are what make power down there, because 1) the compression stroke does provide enough heat to ignite diesel-like fuels. 2) they're more efficient.

They use jet fuels because they're compatible with icing inhibitors--and proper diesel engines don't mind.

Re: Really Wrong... (1)

colinnwn (677715) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326964)

Why is PitaBred getting modded informative when he is wrong, and AC modded down when he is right?

Kerosene (jet A) does become more viscous when cold than octane (traditional gas). I'm sure they use Kerosene because the viscosity increase is manageable, it contains more power per liter than gas, diesel engines are more efficient, it is safer to transport, and jet A is probably easier to get in the Antarctic.

I wish I had some of my ethereal mod points right now.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325346)

Luckily the Dutch found a robot that can handle the gass-pump.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (5, Insightful)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325430)

I'm one of the 4 UNSW scientists who designed PLATO. We certainly are using the fuel efficiently. When the sun is up we get over 1kW from solar panels, and we run one diesel generator at a time with just enough heat output to stop the fuel from getting too cold and turning to gel. Interestingly, the solar panels are considerably (about 30%) more efficient than you would expect from temperate site measurements - the colder temperatures (-50C at the moment) help, as does sunlight reflected from the snow.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (2)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325588)

Hazah! I'm really surprised to get a response from a project participant, and thrilled with your answer. I wish you best of luck with the project!

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325632)

during the antarctic winter there is no sun shining, which will be several months out of the year = (june thru december without any sunshine?) the antarctic summer gets sunshine 24/7...

i have family living in Alaska so i hear about the land of the midnight sun, (and no sun in winter)

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (2, Interesting)

pipatron (966506) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325638)

Why did you not consider wind power? I'd imagine it would be quite strong and even winds there, and no neighbours to whine about the ruined view.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325870)

Actually, Dome A is one of the least windy places on Earth, typically just 2-3 metres per second. Dome A is the highest point in the centre of the Antarctic plateau, and this is where the katabatic winds start from. The winds accelerate as they head towards the coast, and that is where they can reach 100's of kph.

So, unfortunately, wind power was not feasible.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326344)

Fascinating, and with clear skies that would aid your telescopes as well by lessening atmospheric disturbances. Sounds like you'll just need a whole lot more solar panels, then. Though I'm curious, without much wind, how do they stay free of snow? Heating systems installed in them?

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Tangent128 (1112197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327128)

From what I understand, Antarctica is largely a desert. The little accumulation it does get simply never melts.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (0, Offtopic)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327530)

So how do you feel when some jackass on /. questions your decisions even though they have no information to base their opinions on?

Heh, maybe you could stop the wind and hold the world hostage for more funding! MUAHAHAhahahah..*coughwheeze*

What about the shoggoths? (2, Funny)

Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325752)

Nice to see that you took care to make efficient use of the fuel, but did you guys find the remains of any Elder Things? [wikipedia.org] . What about shoggoths? They're pretty nasty if you thaw 'em out.

please tag "plateauofleng" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326484)

Please, please somebody tag this story "plateauofleng". It is just so asking for it...

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325760)

I'm one of the 4 UNSW scientists who designed PLATO.
Lets hope you did a good job.... and are nice to your boss.

Nothing worse than overhearing a conversation in the hallway " um', yeah, ok, well it looks like we're sending Michael down there to sit with PLATO, and um, you know, push the red button once a day at 8am...and yeah, we'll be wanting him to be there all winter. ok?"

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

shadow349 (1034412) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326018)

Nothing worse than overhearing a conversation in the hallway " um', yeah, ok, well it looks like we're sending Michael down there to sit with PLATO, and um, you know, push the red button once a day at 8am...and yeah, we'll be wanting him to be there all winter. ok?"
Silly ... the red button once a day is so passe. Now you have to type "4 8 15 16 23 42" every 108 minutes.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325806)

I have an Astronomy masters from UWS which I never have and never intended to use in any professional capacity. (I found my niche in IT, and basically making a living doing science was too big a risk).

Let me just say it's fantastic to hear some real Astronomy still being done in Australia. I studied the history of Aussie Astronomy and found it quite depressing that we were once at the forefront especially in Radio astronomy, whereas now, not so much.

Also don't let the criticisms here get to you. If you're a regular here you'll know the quality of the comments on /. has been in steady decline for a couple of years now, and that sometimes the trolls rule the roost. I'd love to see some of these people making comments about environmentalism actually design something better under the political and organizational conditions and challenges you face.

That's not to say that I don't believe the environment should be considered. I just think that any project in Antarctica is going to need to go through some environmental checks and balances before being permitted by several governments in any case. I'm sure there will continue to be improvements as well as teams get more experience working under such requirements.

What you're doing sounds fantastic, and it is to be applauded not criticized. Keep up the good work.

I do have questions: What constraints dictate that you work with such small telescopes? Are they primarily financial or technical in nature?

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325874)

Was wind not viable? Or is this just the pilot, with installed instruments monitoring wind to determine what parameters you'll need for a permanent wind turbine? As a pilot project, I can see going with simpler tech such as a generator in the early phase and adding wind turbines at a later date. You'd have to find some extremely durable maintenance free wind turbines for that location, but with 1kw wind turbines in the $3k range, you could easily place several around the site to handle the inevitable failure of one or more units. Plus, you could allow the fuel to turn to gel if you contain the fuel in multiple tanks and use a resistance heater (or two, for failure modes) in each tank and just turn it on when you need to melt the fuel to run it through the generator. You really don't need to keep all the fuel melted at once, just one tank.

Of course, all this is probably already addressed, I'm just full of $0.02 like everyone else here. :)

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326488)

The closer you get to the poles the less wind you get. You have less heat differential and less rotation of the Earth to circulate the air.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326510)

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326230)

I'm one of the 4 UNSW scientists who designed PLATO. We certainly are using the fuel efficiently. When the sun is up we get over 1kW from solar panels, and we run one diesel generator at a time with just enough heat output to stop the fuel from getting too cold and turning to gel. Interestingly, the solar panels are considerably (about 30%) more efficient than you would expect from temperate site measurements - the colder temperatures (-50C at the moment) help, as does sunlight reflected from the snow.

Wow, that's great! You see, this work is relevant to the script for a sci-fi movie I'm currently working on. Maybe you could give me some details about the project to help make my screenplay more realistic?

See, the premise is this: arrogant scientists, in their hubris, invent a high-tech robot telescope and install it in the remote reaches of Antarctica where no one is around. And then the robot telescope becomes self-aware, and goes insane and wants to kill everyone. That's the first act. However, I'm having a little trouble figuring out what happens in Act 2... I mean, the robot can't move, and there's nobody around to kill. So right now, in Scene 2 the robot just sits there and sulks, and sends spiteful emails to the research team, and muses on the nature of existence. So it's sort of existential, I was hoping for something very "Terminator"-like and it's coming out a bit more like "Waiting For Godot".

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

char70ger (1234672) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326782)

I belong to another discussion group who says that antartica is a govt conspiracy and does not exist. I am not one of the disbelievers however. I posted links to three articles about this to the board and also this discussion. http://theflatearthsociety.org/forum/index.php?topic=19756.0 [theflatearthsociety.org]

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (2, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325708)

Getting the scientists there and back uses more jet fuel than this.

Environmentalism is a noble and necessary cause but if you're going to make cost savings try ellminating things like Christmas lights before you decide to object to science like this on environmental grounds. We wouldn't know about environmental impact if we didn't do good science.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326022)

I agree with your point, and I'm not saying it's a worthy cause. I'm well aware of how much Jet A it takes to get a Hercules to that side of the world with the necessary equipment and people. All I said was that I hope the kerosene they're using was being used efficiently. Don't mistake that for "Oh noes! Save the treez! They be burnin' fuels for star findin'!"

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326036)

I don't think people question the use of jet fuel for this project so much on environmental grounds as on maintainability grounds. 4000l of fuel will eventually need to be replenished. Installing more solar, wind turbines, and gyroscopic batteries designed to be maintenance free over a long life could reduce the need for service from semiannual or annual to once per decade. Obviously, everything will at some point need service but if you can install sufficient spares then you'll only need to go out there when power plant failures reach a particular threshold.

Also, I'm thinking that such a desolate place would be a great location for an entirely airdropped system. Drop different components as autonomous units from a high altitude with a guided parachute system and gps and give each device its own backup power source with enough power to run on its own for maybe 24 hours. When they land have them figure out where they all are relative to each other and design a system where the power plants actually beam power via microwave to the power consuming units and each other, making a self-correcting power grid. As a bonus, if a gadget like a wind turbine gets frozen up, redirect a power beam to the freeze and melt the ice off!

Ok, I know, I'm just dreaming now, but it does sound cool!

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

cymen (8178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326428)

Yeah, like it would work real well to do a lot of start stop cycles in the COLDEST FREAKING PLACE.

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (1)

cymen (8178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326446)

Of course, I could be wrong [slashdot.org] .

Re:Lots o' jet fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22327074)

Even if it runs non-stop, generators throttle themselves down. Like a cruise control on a car. They only use as much fuel as the electrical load demands (+ some overhead + inefficiency losses).

A smart system would employ batteries, and would only start and run the generator at highest efficiency periodically to recharge the batteries.

Now that's cool (0, Flamebait)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325292)

I'm a big proponent of not buying goods made in China due to their human rights abuses, but this most certainly falls under the cool category (literally). Dragging all that equipment and fuel across what is probably the most barren landscape on the planet, with weather conditions subject to change at a moments notice, is a feat. Unfortunately, the generator will now be polluting this area but I don't think solar panels would do the trick.

Something else though. With the recent flyby of an asteroid last month, wouldn't this location also be a good place to look for asteroids or other objects coming at us from that direction?

Re:Now that's cool (1)

dasbush (1143709) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325356)

I don't think pollution would be a huge factor. There wouldn't really be a global warming problem in North America (or anywhere) if there was only one coal plant in the entire continent and no other green house gas emitters (cars, factories, etc) anywhere else.

Re:Now that's cool (1)

TurinPT (1226568) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325478)

I'm a big proponent of not buying goods made in China due to their human rights abuses.
The US are not that fond of the Geneva Convention themselves. Slashdot is based in the US.
What are you doing here?

Re:Now that's cool (4, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325602)

What are you doing here?


Goofing off for the last 20 minutes or so of the day. ;)

Re:Now that's cool-And Easy If Done With... (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325614)

Dragging all that equipment and fuel across what is probably the most barren landscape on the planet, with weather conditions subject to change at a moments notice, is a feat.

I doubt it would be that hard. All you need is a good sled team of Emperor Penguins.

Re:Now that's cool (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326210)

Why you so afraid of Bush?

But... (0, Offtopic)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325302)

Amazing and all, but is it able to fill my gass-tank?

Once again Zonk slips in an Aussie reference. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325320)

Not a single "story" gets posted to Slashdot on his watch unless it waves the Australian flag.

What a true Ocker patriot he is.

14.5 centimeters? (1)

murrdpirate (944127) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325328)

If they're going all the way to Antarctica, can't they bring some bigger telescopes?

Re:14.5 centimeters? (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325536)

Well, you have to start somewhere! Remember that Dome A is completely remote. There is no station there, and PLATO is running without human intervention for as long as a year. The amount of fuel we could take in dictated the available power, and that in turn limited the size of telescope we could take in. Still, we have four 14.5cm telescopes, a 1.5m sonic radar, two sky cameras, 4 webcameras, a 15-m tower, and a 450 micron wavelength telescope, several terabytes of disks, a dozen computers, about 64GB of flash storage, two Iridium satellite modems.

Re:14.5 centimeters? (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326254)

Let me guess, the United States is not giving you access to TDRSS? ;)

Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (2, Insightful)

deft (253558) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325348)

I find it interesting that they decided (probably pretty intelligently) that the eaeiest way to do this project was robotrically, instead of trying to man a mission to antarctica through the winter.

i wonder if the same theory was applied to space travel would a mars mission be logically manned or not?

My guess is just to prove we can, rather than actual practicality, which I'm all for because it pushes out the boundaries of what we know, and sets a goal.

That said, i couldnt help thinking of the similarities of hostile environments. (without the distance issues)

Re:Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (1)

dasbush (1143709) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325412)

Uhm, most of our space exploration to date has been unmanned. Mars rovers, the probe that just flew by Mercury, et al. Actual time spent in space has to be greater on the robot side than on the human side. Humans can only take so much, machines are... well.. machines.

Re:Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (2, Informative)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325458)

A robotic mission makes sense in a situation where the variables are known. A robot can be designed to take care of almost any fixed situation. As long as you know where you are going, roughly what you will find and what you will do once you get there, robotic missions are a really great idea.

Where human missions are useful is where the variables are not known. If you are not sure what will need to be done, or if depending on your initial finding the rest of the mission will change unpredictably, you need people in the loop. While the resources needed to get them there and keep them alive are initially higher than most robotic missions would be, having humans on the scene gives you far greater flexibility.

Re:Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (1)

Kandenshi (832555) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327780)

I'd rather not risk human life on a mission where we're basically saying

"whoop! We're not really sure what things will be like once you get there... Not really 100% sure what we'll have you do upon arrival either... Good luck!"

For that, I'm all in favor of some general purpose robots, followed by more fine-tuned robots :P

Re:Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325620)

But, um, we have had manned missions to Antarctica [wikipedia.org] . And there are plenty of practical reasons for a manned mission to Mars. Like when you don't know exactly what you're looking for, for instance.

Re:Interesting that robotic was the way to go here (2, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325746)

Robotic missions make a lot of sense at first, and then it becomes more and more practical to send humans. It's a lot easier and more cost-effective for them to just send a robot to antarctica, and they're not sure if it's even worth sending that much. If they send equipment and it turns out to be a lot harder and more worthless than they thought, it's a lot easier to just leave the equipment there for recovery later, if at all. With actual humans down there, they need to send more initially to keep them alive and then they have to get them out.

However, if it turns out to really be the ideal place for an observatory, then they'll be more likely to build the facilities out and actually send a team of people. Since we've already done the robotic exploration of mars, we can now send humans and expect a reasonable rate of return on the risk.

"The observatory will hunt for alien planets..." (2, Insightful)

rminsk (831757) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325360)

The observatory will hunt for alien planets...
Wouldn't any planet not our own be an alien planet?

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325520)

Yes...that's sort of the idea. Hunt for planets not our own.

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (1)

s20451 (410424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325716)

Wouldn't any planet not our own be an alien planet?

Not if we're the lost 13th colony.

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (1)

Hektor_Troy (262592) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325750)

Depends on what you mean by "alien" - could just mean extra solar.

However, an extraterrestrial planet is any non-earth planet.

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (1)

jesdynf (42915) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325780)

Well, yes. But after BioDome 2: The Search For Beer, lawmakers have been wary about funding multi-million dollar observatories to find our own planet.

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (1)

uofitorn (804157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325800)

"Wouldn't any planet not our own be an alien planet?"

Exactly. I don't get the confusion. Why was this marked +3 insightful?

Re:"The observatory will hunt for alien planets... (1)

ozbird (127571) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326504)

Wouldn't any planet not our own be an alien planet?

Only if it has aliens on it.

FOR (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325378)


the invasion of Iran [huffingtonpost.com] .

I hope this helps in the construction of your bunker-bomb resistant bomb shelter.

PatRIOTically,
K. Trout

Gas Generator (2, Funny)

eap (91469) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325380)

PLATO is powered by a gas generator, and has a 4000-litre tank of jet fuel to keep it running through the winter.
If they can generate their own gas, why do they need jet fuel?

Re:Gas Generator (1)

s20451 (410424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325600)

"Gas" here is in the physical state sense, not the fuel sense.

They're using a gas turbine to generate electricity. A gas turbine is basically a jet engine, where the exhaust gases are collected and redirected to perform useful work (in this case, to turn a fan connected to the rotor in a generator). The gas generator is part of this assembly, and generates the huge volumes of gas needed to turn the fan.

Re:Gas Generator (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325976)

I'm hoping that wooshing noise you heard before you posted was the joke going over your head.

much of man'kind' afflicted with funnel vision... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325398)

of the greed/fear/ego/based variety. so, even with the sleekest of gadgets, at the optimum of viewpoints, they still miss the big picture. let yOUR conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071229/ap_on_sc/ye_climate_records;_ylt=A0WTcVgednZHP2gB9wms0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080108/ts_alt_afp/ushealthfrancemortality;_ylt=A9G_RngbRIVHsYAAfCas0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A [nytimes.com]

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=video+cloud+spraying [google.com]

dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/28/vermont.banning.bush.ap/index.html [cnn.com]

the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html [cnn.com]

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html [cnn.com]

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece [timesonline.co.uk]
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

Jet fuel? Great - more pollution... (0, Flamebait)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325462)

Chinese, eh? Well, no need to ask about their attitudes to pollution, huh?

The last thing that one of the greatest expaneses of reasonably unpolluted places on earth, (reasonably? They can detect significant levels of lead at both poles thanks to the worldwide use of leaded fuel), is more pollution.

How about a large tank of hydrogen instead, guys?

Re:Jet fuel? Great - more pollution... (5, Insightful)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325966)

The decision to use "jet fuel", specifically Antarctic grade kerosene, was made by the Australian team after much consideration of all reasonable alternatives. Environmental issues were foremost in our minds. PLATO produces a microscopic addition to the kerosene usage in Antarctica. We are using efficient diesel generators, and have over 200mm of additional insulation lining both modules of PLATO. Every 15 watts of heat we put in raises the internal temperature by 1 degree C.

We have 1kW of solar panels, which provide most of the power during summer. However, when the sun is down, and with the very low windspeeds at Dome A, the choices become limited.

We will eagerly embrace hydrogen fuel cells when they become practical. However, they are not there yet.

Re:Jet fuel? Great - more pollution... (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326748)

Got a car? Take any form of motorized transportation? Chances are that you have personally used over 4000 liters of fuel in just the past couple of years. Maybe you ought to invest in a tank of hydrogen.

You can't fool me (1)

whitehatlurker (867714) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325472)

I know that Antarctica is on the bottom part of the world and you can't see alien planets if you're looking DOWN. This is why the project "became aborted halfway in its implementation due to some reasons."

It's just a lot of turtles, as far you can see ...

Tagging beta (1)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325476)

What? A "robot" tag without the compulsory "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag?

Honest officer! (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325860)

I wasn't perving the girls' dorm on purpose! My roboscope got a virus.

awesome (1)

Neuropol (665537) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325518)

simply awesome. I wonder if at some point they'll put them online for access and have membership accounts for controlling and data collection. Services like that are a great way to generate funds for operation. A solid membership base can help to continuously scan the skies by having people that can schedule log-ins from locations around the world.

Expecially Good Because (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325552)

It's especially good because you can look right up through that hole in the ozone layer.

Re:Expecially Good Because (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325700)

"PLATO is powered by a gas generator, and has a 4000-litre tank of jet fuel to keep it running through the winter."

I agree - sounds like a great way to speed up global warming to me. Let's put a giant furnace right on top of the biggest iceberg in the world, below the ozone hole. I trust they've got that part figured out, but still...

Alien Planets (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325586)

The observatory will hunt for alien planets

Are there any other kind?

Re:Alien Planets (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325812)

The observatory will hunt for alien planets
Are there any other kind?
Well to put it another way, they are not interested in the planets that have green-cards.

Must.. Not.. Read.. Postings.. From.. 3rd Graders. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325608)

"Antarctica claims some of the best astronomical sky conditions in the world -- devoid of clouds with steady air that makes for clear viewing.
I've never heard Antarctica claim anything.

Now astronomers in a Chinese scientific expedition have set up an experimental observatory at Dome A after lugging their equipment across Antarctica with the help of Australia and the US.
In other words the Chinese couldn't do this without Australian or United States help.

The observatory will hunt for alien planets, while also measuring the observing conditions at the site to see if it is worth trying to build bigger observatories there.
Why aren't they looking for native planets?

The observatory is automated, pointing its telescopes on its own while astronomers monitor its progress from other locations around the world via satellite link.
You keep using that word automated, and on its own. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Astronomers hope to return in 2009 with new instruments, including the Antarctica Schmidt Telescopes (AST-3), a trio of telescopes with 0.5-metre mirrors, which will be more sensitive to planets than CSTAR."
Why do our telescopes need to be sensitive to other planets?

-10 to IQ points after reading this.

At the mountains of madness... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22325732)

I, for one, welcome our new star-headed overlords.

some information on the computer control systems (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325832)

As one of the University of New South Wales people involved, I thought slashdot might like some information on the computer systems that PLATO uses.

PLATO uses two redundant PC/104 form factor computers running Debian Etch. The computers boot from a 4GB flash disk (we tested 5 different models in the lab, and found one that worked reliably to -60C, despite only being spec'ed to -25C; all the other models worked to -40C, but had problems below that).

We use a readonly filesystem, with /home, /etc, and /var being created on boot in a ramdisk. This works really well, and it is nice to be able to turn off the power at any time without being concerned about filesystem corruption. Needless to say, with no possibility of any human being on-site for the rest of the year, we have thought very carefully about reliability.

Bulk data storage is provided by terabytes of conventional disks, with the most precious data being backed up on ~64GB of USB flash disks. Conventional disks don't handle the altitude very well, so we don't like to rely on them.

Communication is via two Iridium satellite modems, running at 2400 baud. We can push software updates by sending a set of "Short Burst Data" messages of up to 2000 bytes at a time. We can also login to PLATO using ssh, and I'm logged in as I'm typing this and running experiments.

There is a CAN (Controller Area Network) bus running throughout PLATO and linking the two modules: the Instrument Module, and the Engine Module, 45m apart. Each of 11 nodes on the bus has a small Atmel board that can turn power on/off to experiments, digital and analog I/O, etc.

More info, photos, and links to the health and status data are at http://mcba11.phys.unsw.edu.au/~mcba/plato [unsw.edu.au]

Fantastic info - why is this not modded up? (1)

dtolman (688781) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325964)

2400 baud - ouch. At that data rate, how much data can be returned in a given day? Or is the plan to just physically pickup the bulk of the data at the end of the year for processing, and use the real time info just for guidance and target selection?

Re:Fantastic info - why is this not modded up? (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326042)

With two modems going flat out we could theoretically transfer 40MB per day. In practice the link isn't all that reliable and we would be lucky to achieve half of that. Still, it is enough to control the experiments and return reduced data to verify that everything is working. All of the health and status information fits into 12KB per day.

The bulk of the data will be physically returned by the next Chinese traverse team, this time next year.

Re:some information on the computer control system (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326012)

Fantastic photos and interesting stuff.

I'm a kiwi and I've worked with the Scott Base deployments out of Christchurch, but never made it there myself. Take care mate, and hope you make the news again soon!

Cheers.

Russ

Re:some information on the computer control system (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326090)

Checked out the pics - those generators are so CUTE! What is the spec on them, and what are you doing for low temp starts?

Re:some information on the computer control system (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326252)

The engines are Hatz 1B30, we use two different generators: four are made by eCycle, and two by Mavilor. Each puts out about 1kW at 120VDC.

To start the engines we have two banks of Ultracapacitors. These are amazing devices, 3000 Farads each, charged to 2V, with 12 in each bank arranged to give 12VDC. They can turn over the engines very quickly. We haven't had to crank an engine for more than 2 seconds yet, although we haven't dropped the engine temperatures below 0C.

We tested the system in a pressure tank at UNSW to simulate the roughly 0.5atm pressure. The engines still work well at this altitude.

Re:some information on the computer control system (1)

lrohrer (147725) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326162)

So why not use short wave transmissions for data even as a backup?

Re:some information on the computer control system (3, Insightful)

conlaw (983784) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326220)

Professor Ashley,

I'd give you mod points for your answers but there seems to be no category for comments that are simultaneously informative, interesting and insightful. Therefore, I'll just extend thanks on behalf of all of us who will benefit from this extension of knowledge and wish you great success and excellent karma.

Re:some information on the computer control system (1)

hotwatermusic (911310) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326272)

Great! What was the password again?

And it really does run linux.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326278)

Now finally tux has a computer to play with!

Re:some information on the computer control system (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327332)

Has your team considered puting the hard drives in a pressure vessel of some sort? It seems silly to put data on drives that you're afraid to rely on because of altitude problems.

Re:some information on the computer control system (4, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327582)

Has your team considered puting the hard drives in a pressure vessel of some sort?

Yes, we have thought about this a lot, and have never had the time to complete the design! It is the best solution, and we should be doing it. It is much easier nowadays that IDE interfaces are going away and serial connections mean that fewer cables need to leave the pressure vessel.

If we use a USB interface, I'm a bit nervous about the reliability of Linux USB storage, or perhaps it is the controllers that interface the drive with USB. I've had many examples of filesystem corruption with external USB drives. And USB flash disks seem to have problems too. Quite often during boot a drive will give all sorts of error messages and will require power cycling to fix it. Googling for these problems show that they are common, but with no solutions that I have found.

Our particular PC/104 computer has both USB 1 and 2 interfaces, but we can only boot reliably off USB 1, and we see intermittent failures if we use both USB 1 and 2. The flakiness of USB for storage is a major frustration.

SATA wasn't an option on our computer. These are low-power embedded systems, so they tend to lag a bit with some of the newer interfaces.

Uh-Oh (1)

JoeD (12073) | more than 6 years ago | (#22325962)

Better watch out for shoggoths!

How PLATO got to Dome A (5, Informative)

Michael Ashley (812193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22326466)

For your interest, here is some information on how PLATO got to Dome A.

The PLATO modules were built at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Instruments were provided by our collaborators at a number of universities in China, the US, and the UK.

In late November 2007 PLATO was trucked 3912 km to Perth, where it joined a Chinese icebreaker for a two week trip to Zhongshan station on the edge of Antarctica. A helicopter then lifted the modules off the ship and about 100km inland where they joined a traverse for the ~1200 km journey to Dome A.

The traverse was an amazing feat. 17 people, 5 tractors. PLATO itself weighted about 10 tonnes. The traverse moves at speeds of 5-10 km per hour each day for 10 hours, and then rested for 14 hours. After three weeks of this, they arrive at Dome A. I am told that the undulating motion of the tractors over the ice can give you "sled sickness", an unpleasant variety of seasickness.

The team spent 10 days at Dome A, and did a fantastic job of installing the experiments and getting everything working. The temperatures were around -30C, which isn't much of an issue at low wind speeds. The altitude (4090m) is more of a problem, as it makes physical work exhausting, and there are difficulties with sleeping, mental acuity, etc.

Much more information, and a diary of the trip by the Chinese team members, is at http://mcba11.phys.unsw.edu.au/~mcba/plato [unsw.edu.au] .

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326518)

How can a gas generator run on jet fuel?

Re:Huh? (1)

SlashWombat (1227578) | more than 6 years ago | (#22327930)

Jet fuel is high grade kerosene ... Diesel is low grade kerosene ...

Resizing the browser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22326854)

I know this is off topic, but the site for the Chinese expedition resizes the browser. Slashdot warns you if the link is to a PDF, so why not have a warning for links that resize your browser? Seriously, you would think that nobody would do this anymore -- except spam and porn sites.
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