Astronomers are rejoicing that they've found the best place on earth for astronomical observation. The only problem? It also happens to be the "very worst place on the surface of the planet for humans". Whoops. Send in the Robots.
Dubbed Ridge A, this magical spot in Antarctica provides such a clear view of the heavens that a "modestly-sized telescope there would be as powerful as the largest telescopes anywhere else on earth." Scientists will be using the knowledge gained from the first Antarctic robotic viewing station, the PLATeau Observatory, to set up another 'bot operated observatory station in this dry and cold place:
The simple observatory is, in the words of University of Arizona astronomer Craig Kulesa, a steel shipping container that scientists "cut in half and insulated the crap out of."
Well, not everything has to be high tech, right? Hacked together or not, the robot-manned observatories are significant not only of the data they provide, but also because of the savings in comparison to a space mission for the same photos:
Getting a kilogram of anything into orbit costs thousands of dollars. The cost of getting a kilogram to Ridge A is about $US10.
This means that the National Science Foundation is getting a heck of a lot of research done without the benefits of a NASA-sized budget. Not to mention that robots are far cooler than rockets anyway. [Wired]