Scientists have discovered that the calmest place on Earth is on top of a vast icy plateau in Antarctica. According to a report in the Times, scientists pinpointed a site, known simply as Ridge A, high up on the Antarctic Plateau, several hundred miles from the South Pole. The atmosphere at the site is so still that the stars have lost their twinkle because there is no turbulence in the atmosphere to distort the starlight.
The weather comprises of a few clouds, barely a wisp of wind and no falling snow. The air is 100 times drier than the Sahara and the winter averages -70C (minus 94F), which also gives Ridge A the accolade of the driest and coldest place in the world.
At 4,053m (13,300ft), Ridge A is so high that the scientists also discovered that it lies at the head of all three of the Antarctic’s huge glaciers, each the size of Western Europe. This hardly makes Ridge A the ideal tourist destination, but for astronomers it is paradise. A team of Australian and US scientists trawled through data from satellites, ground weather stations and computer climate models to find the ideal location for an astronomical telescope that would not suffer from the weather. They found one of the least cloudy places in the world where the there is no greenhouse effect and the air is bone dry because it is so cold. “It just jumped out from our search through the data how good Ridge A was - it’s so calm that there’s almost no wind or weather there at all,” said the British astronomer Will Saunders, the leader of the study and visiting professor at the University of New South Wales. To add to its tranquillity, Ridge A and the surrounding plateau also lie beneath the calm eye of a polar vortex of winds high in the stratosphere, as calm as the eye of a hurricane. “So the air is calm from the ground all the way up into space,” Professor Saunders said.
“The astronomical images taken at Ridge A should be at least three times sharper than at the best sites currently used by astronomers. And because the sky is so much darker and drier, it means that a modest-sized telescope there would be as powerful as the largest telescopes anywhere else on Earth,” he added.