The Automated Astrophysical Site-Testing Observatory (AASTO)



The AASTO and the South Pole Webcam were decommissioned in December 2005. We have included images taken by the webcam for historical purposes. Information on the webcam installation and AASTO role are retained below.

There is now a new web camera at South Pole  operated by NOAA.

The AASTO Building and g-tower


How was this image generated?

The image above was taken by a NetCam manufactured by StarDot Technologies, mounted in a temperature-controlled plastic dome. From the South Pole, the images were sent to UNSW where they were placed on this mirror site making them accessible to people all over the world. The image was set to automatically update every 10 minutes when satellite connectivity to the pole was available.

What was the AASTO project?

The AASTO was a self-powered, self-heated observatory that operated autonomously in Antarctica for up to 12 months at a time. Its purpose was to carry out a comprehensive series of measurements of astronomical observing conditions on the Antarctic plateau, providing information for planning new observatory sites for the 21st century. 

The AASTO was located at the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, within a few hundred metres of the exact geographic South Pole (its precise latitude is -89d 59m). It was connected by fibre optic to world's southernmost telescope - UNSW's Antarctic Fibre Optic Spectrometer (AFOS). For more information on the AASTO project (and AFOS), see the AASTO home page.

How was the AASTO installed?

An Axis NetEye200 camera was mounted on a baseplate of fibreglass/foam sandwich, and covered with two concentric hemispherical domes of clear plastic. This created a well insulated environment. An electrical heater, fan and thermostat were installed alongside the camera, maintaining its temperature at +10C.

Because the sky and snow can be extremely bright at the South Pole, a neutral density filter was used to attenuate the light. This filter also helped protect the camera, which at certain times of day pointed directly at the sun.

Dr Michael Ashley and the AASTO-cam (February 1998).
The AASTO-cam with the MAPO observatory building in the background (February 1998).

What sound does the SODAR make?

The Sound Detection And Ranging (SODAR) instrument, which was located on the roof of the AASTO building, used sound pulses, to detect turbulence and measure wind speeds at the South Pole.  For more information on the Remtech PA1 Sodar we use, visit the Remtech web site.

To listen to some sound pulses emitted by the SODAR by click on the icons below:

While you are here you might like to look at an animation made from the AASTO webcam.

How was the animation made?

The web camera was set up to take an image of the AASTO every four minutes for a period of 33 hours (and the sun just goes round and round, proving we're at the South Pole). This produced a series of over 1000 jpeg images. These images were combined in Adobe Premiere and made into animation which was then compressed to MPEG format ready for the web.

For more information on the Antarctic astronomy program at UNSW,
please feel free to contact us via email at any time.