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April 2, 2011

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Snow Dragon looks to the stars

CHINESE scientists conducted studies into building a space observatory on the highest point of the South Pole during a recent expedition, officials said yesterday.

Xuelong - Snow Dragon - China's only icebreaker, returned to its Shanghai base on Wednesday, having traveled 36,077 kilometers since leaving Shenzhen in Guangdong Province last November.

It carried out projects on the Antarctic marine system, the South Pole climate and astronomy during its 27th Antarctic expedition, said officials from the Polar Research Institute of China.

The 190 staff members, including four overseas scientists, completed 31 scientific research projects during the 142-day trip, the prime task of which was investigating the location for a observatory.

Dome A - the highest point of the South Pole - is considered an ideal location.

"Dome A is the best choice for an observatory, in terms of its location and meteorological conditions. It is 4,093 meters above sea level and has low temperatures and extreme dryness," said Zeng Honghui, from the institute. "This gives Dome A the best view of the sky on Earth."

China's Kunlun Station is already set up nearby. "The observatory takes many years in preparation and study, which is also why we set up our Kunlun Station, the new one completed in 2009, near to the Dome A," Zeng said.

Officials said the observatory plan has been agreed by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and passed an international environmental impact assessment.


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