The South Pole Telescope By: Nicole dimaria

Basic Information


  • The South Pole Telescope (SPT) is located in Antarctica, at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station.

How Much Money?

  • The telescope cost roughly around $19.2 million to build, with a $16 million budget.

Who Paid For It?

  • The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.
  • The Kavli Foundation -- funds science programs, supports the advancement of science, and wants to increase the public's understanding, interest, and support in science.
  • The Betty Moore Foundation -- a program that believes in improving the quality of life, and supports creating a brighter future for upcoming generations specifically through science and environmental studies.
  • The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) and the Raytheon Polar Support Corporation -- These companies work together to support the conducting of research in Antarctica.

How Long Did It Take To Build?

  • The building of the telescope began around November 2006. Due to the size of the telescope and the weather conditions limiting building time in Antarctica, parts of the telescope were built around the world, then transported to the station. The installment period of the telescope could only last 2 months, and they finally finished building in February of 2007.

When Was The Telescope First Used?

  • The South Pole Telescope was first used in March of 2007 to begin their observations.

Who Operates It?

  • The Amundsen Scott South Pole Station operates the telescope and the researchers located there use it the most often. Yet, their team of astronomers, researchers, and engineers pan from over a dozen different universities, varying from Melbourne University to the University of Chicago that also help with research and findings.
Pictures of the Antarctic Flag, South Pole Station, the diagram of the South Pole Telescope, and pictures of the SPT in use are shown above.

Additional Information

  • The official website:
  • The twitter:
  • The link providing organizations using the telescope:

Physical Characteristics

What Are The Mirror Dimensions?

  • The mirror has a 10 meter diameter, and is considered a small research telescope.

What Are The Mirrors Made Of?

  • The primary mirror is made up of over 200 aluminum panel mirrors.

Other Information About Its Characteristics:

  • The mirror's thickness is only around 25 micrometers, which is one thousandth of an inch!
  • The telescope's weight comes in around 244 metric tons, which is 537928 pounds!
A diagram of how the mirror gathers light and data is pictured above.

Optical Characteristics

What Region Of The EM Spectrum Does It Cover?

  • The South Pole Telescope covers the microwave spectrum.

What Wavelengths Does It Gather?

  • The SPT can gathers wavelengths about 1 millimeter long.

What Is Its Resolution?

  • This telescope has a resolution of about 1 arc minute, which is 0.0166667 degrees.

Any Special Features?

  • High Throughput — This means the SPT can support the weight of cameras with several thousand detectors on them.
  • Low Noise — The telescope (although it can rotate) sits in a stationary ground shield, and any gaps on the telescope are sealed off. There are de-icing heaters to prevent ice from forming on the telescope. All of these contribute to low noise, which means higher sensitivity and better data.
  • Low Offsets — There’s a low sidelobe response to buildings, the horizon, snow, etc, which means there will be little to no interference while the researchers are gathering their data.
  • Sub millimeter Operation — The accuracy of the SPT is 1.5 arc seconds, which is 0.000416667 degrees.
  • Despite the deicing heaters, the majority of the mirror is cooled at 10 K, which is -441.67 degrees fahrenheit. This ensures the image is clearer and sharper (has a higher resolution) than if it was warm.
The picture above depicts the Low Noise (the ground shield).
The red dot represents where the camera would be placed in order to take a picture of the image formed (hidden behind the secondary mirror).

Research and Purpose

What Kind Of Objects Does The Telescope Study?

  • The SPT specializes in studying dark matter and galaxy clusters.

What Are Some Discoveries?

  • The SPT discovered the Phoenix Cluster (named for being found in the Phoenix constellation). The central galaxy found in this cluster seems to have "come back to life." Its black hole isn't powerful enough to stop the growth of stars in the cluster. This discovery must cause astronomers to rethink how clusters form and act.
  • The SPT also discovered primordial gravitational waves. These show that there's continuous cosmic inflation, and that the waves continue to move from the Big Bang even hundreds of thousands of years later. The discovery of these gravitational waves also show that gravity has a similar nature to other forces of nature.
The Central Galaxy pictured above is the Phoenix Cluster the SPT discovered.

What Sets The Telescope Apart From Others?

  • The SPT can gather CMB (cosmic microwave background) from all directions and studies the waves that have traveled to the earth since the birth of the universe. Also, the SPT tries answering broader questions than other telescopes, such as the universe as a whole. They focus on the bigger picture rather than specific stars, galaxies, clusters, etc.

Articles/Research Papers About The Telescope

  • The official South Pole Telescope Website posts its publications of any discovery:
  • More information about the Phoenix Cluster:
  • More information about the Gravitational Waves:

The South Pole Telescope Pictures

These pictures show 4 galaxies founded by the SPT surrounded by a 1' arc minute diameter.
This picture depicts the CMB left over from the Big Bang. The differences in brightness/color are fluctuations in the intensity of the CMB. This is said to be a “baby picture” of the universe.
The combined data of the SPT (left) and Herschel (right) prove that galaxies distort the CMB data collected, and distort it.
This picture taken by the SPT studies temperature changes in the light leftover from the Big Bang to millionths of a degree of a Kelvin. It helps highlight some of the first stars and galaxies ever formed.
The picture on the left is taken by the SPT, while the picture on the right is from some of the Planck Data. The brighter lights in the SPT's picture are two dwarf planets visible in the southern hemisphere, called The Magellanic Clouds. The Planck data used the picture of the SPT, and used color correction (false coloring) to better highlight the planets.

False Coloring

  • The SPT doesn't use false coloring in their pictures, yet other researchers, astronomers, and telescopes will use the SPT's data combined with theirs in order to color correct their pictures.

Citations of Pictures


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