Naomasa Nakai, an expert on supermassive black holes, is forging ahead with a project to build a new astronomical research station in Antarctica to unravel the mystery behind the birth of galaxies.
Nakai, a professor at the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture, heads a consortium conducting a study on observation conditions and technological needs with an eye toward building a station with a giant telescope.
“If extended space exploration and advanced research on the birth of stars (are) made possible at the envisioned station, we may unravel the mystery behind the formation of galaxies,” Nakai said.
“If government funding is allocated to our project, the new station will be completed in 2020 and observation may start the following year,” he said, noting the United States and China are also looking to begin space observation from Antarctica.
Observation would be possible 24 hours a day in winter, when there is no daylight, Nakai said.
The planned site is near the existing Dome Fuji base and is considered an optimal spot for astronomical observation.
“It is located in an inland area with high altitudes of about 4,000 meters above sea level and the percentage of sunny days is high,” he said.
A 2013 study conducted by the 54th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition found that the amount of water vapor, an obstacle to observation, is extremely small around the site and that atmospheric fluctuations there are the smallest on Earth, Nakai explained.
“We are assuming that more than 10 people, including five astronomical researchers, would spend the winter at the new station,” he said.
But the consortium, which comprises members from Tohoku University, the National Institute of Polar Research and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, also faces a mountain of challenges.
“Building a new station requires several hundred tons of fuel and food every year,” Nakai said, adding that thick ice plates may block vessels from reaching the coast.
A telescope must also be transported undamaged over a rough trail covered in snow and ice.
But Nakai, who turned 60 last year, is undaunted.
“I want to travel to Antarctica right away and set up the telescope,” he said.
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