The French and Italian CONCORDIA polar station set up at Dome C in the heart of the Antarctic Plateau is likely to be one of the best site on Earth to settle a future astronomical observatory operating in a wide range of wavelengths. The European Commission through its Sixth Framework Programme (Research Infrastructures) is funding a networking action called ARENA (Antarctic Research, a European Network for Astrophysics) whose purpose is to prepare a complete and thorough prospective documentation for such a unique facility.
This book reports on the first of a series of 3 annual Conferences organized by this network. The aim of this first Conference was primarily to gather engineers and scientists involved in various areas of atmospheric sciences, astrophysics, and polar engineering, in an international mutli-disciplinary meeting. The prerequisite to the development of large facilities at Dome C is a careful assessment of the site quality for astronomical purposes, and therefore strongly depends on our knowledge of the atmospheric properties that constrain the seeing conditions and the infrared and submillimetric sky transparency and emissivity.
The book is comprised of three main parts. The first part is dedicated to the most recent results of relevant atmospheric observations and modelisations. The second part reviews briefly the most compelling science cases that would take considerable benefit from the site properties, from the search of exo-planets and exo-Earths by transit or by microlensing, to large scale high angular resolution surveys in the thermal infrared, notably for cosmological purposes. Finally, the third part is dedicated to present and future instruments and facilities optimized for extreme polar conditions, from the currently on-going IRAIT, the first IR telescope to be operated at Dome C to possible antartized versions of an Extremely Large Telescope or a kilometric interferometric array. A number of technical issues specific to Antarctic conditions have been also reported by engineers, from the construction of towers on ice to frictionless telescopes.
After the first successful winterover of the CONCORDIA station in 2005, the prospect for a large international astronomical facility on the Antarctic Plateau is rapidly progressing thanks to the impetus provided by the ARENA consortium.