This award is for supporting a community workshop on astrophysical research at the South Pole Station and at some remote locations on the Antarctic Plateau. The overarching theme of the workshop is to address the current status and future prospects of the astronomy and astrophysical research in the Antarctic. The workshop attendees will: (a) briefly review the history of astrophysical research from the South Pole, with emphasis on why the kinds of observations currently being pursued came to dominate, and the suitability of the site for other observations; (b) summarize the current on-going projects (IceCube, SPT, CMB polarization) and their results to date and expectations; (c) summarize other astrophysical research going on in Antarctica - the long-duration balloon program from McMurdo and the new installations at Domes A and C; and (d) discuss plans and visions for future generations of experiments at South Pole and at remote sites supported from South Pole.

Project Report

This was a modest ($25k) grant which enabled the holding a workshop in Washington DC to discuss the past, present and future of astrophysical research at the U.S. South Pole Station in Antarctica. Astrophysical observations from this site have been underway for several decades, and to date represent the majority of ground based astrophysical work in Antarctica. The site offers two very special characteristics—the ice below and the sky above. The ice below is two miles thick, and extremely clear, making possible neutrino telescopes of unprecedented scale and sensitivity. Building on the AMANDA experiment the IceCube collaboration has recently completed by far the largest and most sensitive neutrino telescope on Earth. Neutrinos are ghostly sub-atomic particles which interact hardly at all with the ordinary matter which makes up stars and planets—it is only by building truly vast detectors that we have any hope of catching and measuring them. On the other hand it is precisely this incredible penetrating ability which makes them so important to study—once born in distant cosmic accelerators of truly awesome power they easily escape from the site of their production and cross the vast reaches of intergalactic space to reach us here at Earth. By studying these elusive particles we can learn about the most extreme environments in the Universe. The sky above South Pole has proven to be ideally suited to observations in the millimeter waveband where the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the dominant signal. It turns out that the entire sky is glowing brightly in microwaves, and that these are the stretched out remnants of the blinding white light of the Big-Bang fireball itself. By studying this incredibly ancient light we have learned an amazing amount about the origin, content and ultimate fate of the entire Universe. Since the late 1990’s the South Pole has been at the forefront of the global quest to study the CMB, repeatedly delivering world class scientific results. At this time two major efforts are ongoing: the 10 meter SPT telescope is finding massive galaxy clusters at unprecedented distances to measure the history of comic expansion, while the BICEP/SPUD program is searching for the faint signature of hyper inflation a tiny fraction of a second after the beginning of time. Over the years many other types of astronomy have been done from the South Pole and at the moment a set of small new experiments are opening up fresh opportunities. These include using South Pole as a staging post to develop, and then deploy, autonomous experiments to still higher sites on the Antarctic plateau. Other ideas are to study the cosmic web of intergalactic matter, and infrared astronomy with robotic adaptive optics. Given this rich past, vibrant present, and bright future, together with the recent completion of the state-of-the-art New Station, and IceCube and SPT projects, it seemed timely to consider the status of the astrophysical program and what the future may hold. To this end a workshop was organized in Washington DC on April 4/5 2011. Over 40 participants attended. Grant funding was used to enable two international scientists to attend (from Germany and Australia) as well as younger scientists from within the U.S. A lively series of presentations and discussions was held. After the workshop a report was prepared summarizing the presentations and focusing on the infrastructural implications of the visions for the future. Full information on the workshop, attendees, presentations and final report is posted at the workshop website:

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Polar Programs (PLR)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Vladimir O. Papitashvili
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
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