South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica
South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica.NSF

The extreme weather at South Pole is best suited to make astronomical observations as there is no water vapour in the atmosphere to perturb the space exploration process.

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Experimental cosmologist and long-wavelength instrumentalist Keith Vanderlinde, who has spent 11 months over the winter in the Antarctica, says the place is great for those who don't need the company of others to work well. He is currently employed as Assistant Professor at the Dunlap Institute and Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

In 2008, Vanderlinde had gone to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded South Pole Telescope post his Ph.D. The telescope is located half an hour away from the living quarters.

Vanderlinde says the group was initially indecisive about whether to be super social in the shared quarters or opt for individual quarters. "People who didn't work outside at all, they got toasty very quickly. You develop a short fuse," Vanderlinde was quoted as saying by Seeker.

"People develop a 1,000 mile stare and stare at the wall for an hour and not do anything," he added.

The SPT is surveying the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which refers to the leftover thermal radiation since the recombination in Big Bang cosmology. And the best view of the CMB can be observed in microwave wavelengths.

Vanderlinde says hot electrons give away some light which appears as excess energy. "By looking at these little shadows, you can figure out where all of the largest structures in the universe are," he was quoted as saying by Seeker.

"Over time and with observations from the South Pole Telescope's first camera, scientists can also learn how galaxy clusters grew in different eras of the universe, and how dark energy — the ill-understood force that is causing the universe's expansion to accelerate — works," he added.

The light and polarisation intensity or orientation of light related to the direction its coming from is measured by the second-generation camera on the SPT. The formation of huge clusters of matter being formed over a span of time can be calculated by the researchers, the CMB is observed through the galaxies and systems.

"Oddly, tiny particles called neutrinos significantly impact how structure forms in the universe, and how gravity pulls gas and dust together into clusters and galaxies," Vanderlinde said.

"So, by looking at the big scale, scientists can better constrain how massive neutrinos are," he added.

Polarisation modes, also known as B modes, were observed by another SPT dubbed BICEP2. The B modes were first estimated to be ripples or gravitational waves, which originated from gravitational interactions but more research revealed that it originated due to the debris present in our own galaxy.

Vanderlinde's reaction on being asked if he would return to the South Pole again was: "After I left, I had recurring nightmares that I went back for another winter. It was not in any way a bad experience, but at the end you're done. And the idea of doing it again didn't appeal to me."

Later this month, Vanderlinde will be delivering a lecture in Toronto, in which he will talk about his experiences in the South Pole.