A robotic instrument for measuring high altitude atmospheric turbulence from Dome C, Antarctica

J. S. Lawrence*, M. C B Ashley, S. Kenyon, J. W V Storey, A. Tokovinin, J. P. Lloyd, M. Swain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


To properly characterize the atmospheric properties of a site for a future large telescope or interferometer, it is insufficient to measure quantities, such as the full-width at half-maximum of a stellar image, that have been integrated over the entire atmosphere. A knowledge of the turbulence distribution as a function of height is necessary, since this affects the ease and degree to which adaptive optics systems can improve the telescope's resolution. Furthermore, some astronomical measurements, such as narrow-field differential astrometry at microarcsecond precision, depend critically on the amount of turbulence high in the atmosphere (up to 20km). In order to obtain the necessary site-testing data at remote sites such as those on the Antarctic plateau, we have designed a robust and reliable instrument based on an 85 mm refractive telescope, a gimbal-mounted sidereostat mirror, and a Multi-Aperture Scintillation Sensor (MASS). The instrument uses the spatial structure of single-star scintillation to measure vertical turbulence profiles from 0.5 to 20km. The MASS system is designed to operate completely autonomously throughout the Antarctic winter. It also has potential applications at existing observatory sites for quantifying the turbulence characteristics of the atmosphere in real-time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-179
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
Issue numberPART 1
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric turbulence
  • Scintillation
  • Site testing


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