Deng Licai, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and co-author of the new study, said that the cold lake, which is more than 2.5 miles above sea level, is “famous for having an unusually clear sky.” “At the same time, the Cold Lake area has a spectacular view similar to Mars.” Deng said that the local government is eager to attract tourists interested in astronomy and geography and hired his team to investigate the area to see if it is suitable for building an observatory.
Four main factors affect the suitability of any location for astronomical research. The first is whether it tends to have clear skies-which means there are no dense clouds and little light pollution. The second is the stability of local air and weather conditions—and the influence of the atmosphere on night optical and infrared observations (even the smallest particles in the air will interfere). The third is whether the site is connected to infrastructure (such as power) and can be easily accessed. Finally, you need an area that can protect the night sky from human activities.
Astronomers are very interested in high-altitude locations such as Cold Lake, because when observing objects in space, there is less atmosphere that can be seen. The researchers monitored the Cold Lake area for three years, measuring the darkness of the sky, weather, and atmospheric conditions. They found that the region’s scores on all four factors were at least as good as the scores of other potential locations on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Researchers believe that in many ways, it may be better than existing sites in Hawaii and Chile. Temperature changes are smaller, atmospheric conditions are more stable, and the sky is clearer. The water vapor content in the air is also very low, which is particularly useful for infrared observations that are important for cosmology. Weather records for about three years show an average annual rainfall of 0.71 inches. “In this case, Cold Lake has the potential to accommodate large-scale facilities,” Deng said.
In the long run, Cold Lake may be more immune to human activities than Hawaii or Chile. The town passed rules to protect the dark sky in 2017, so light pollution should be kept to a minimum.
“The results at the Cold Lake site are almost as good as those at Mauna Kea, which is widely regarded as one of the best sites in the world,” said Paul Hickson, An astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who previously worked in Dome A In Antarctica. “What is particularly attractive about this location is the focus on light pollution control.”
In some respects, this new research is an affirmation of China’s current astronomy plan for the area around Lenghu Lake. These plans include the 2.5-meter imaging survey telescope to be built this year, the 1-meter solar infrared telescope that will be part of the international array of eight telescopes, and two other 1.8-meter and 0.8-meter telescopes for planetary science.
As Deng Xiaoping pointed out, Tsinghua University and the University of Arizona are cooperating to build 6.5m telescope Surgery was performed on the top of Saishen Teng Mountain. And there is a preliminary plan for a 12-meter telescope to be placed there. “It will be very crowded on the top of the mountain,” Deng said.
These instruments will greatly help China to board infrared and optical astronomy maps-they are equivalent to some “large” telescopes operating in Chile and other places. But they are still dwarfed by the “super-large” observatories being built around the world, such as the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, the 30-meter Telescope in Hawaii, and the 39.3-meter Extra Large Telescope in Chile. It is expected that the types of science that these instruments can achieve will usher in a new era of astronomy. If China really wants to build a more ambitious astronomy plan, it must quickly catch up.
Well, it is a good thing that it has the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. “Tall, dry, isolated mountains are usually the best locations for astronomy,” Hickson said. “There are probably other potential locations on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and even better locations have not yet been explored.”