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Minnesota researcher maintains telescope in Antarctica

November 18, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An astrophysicist from the University of Minnesota who has spent 14 winters in Antarctica tending to a telescope plans to step away from his research after the instrument is replaced.

The university will begin the replacing the telescope and mount at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station this month, Minnesota Public Radio reported .

University astrophysicist Robert Schwarz said he’ll stay through the replacement process but doesn’t plan to return. He’s overseen the telescope maintenance, trekking out in temperatures as low as minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit to check on the instrument.

“I know the telescope very well, sometimes even just the sound like something sounds different. I can already tell something is wrong,” Schwarz said. “Or if everything is OK, if everything sounds right.”

The telescope scans for 42 hours before resting for 6, and is used to learn more about the universe, researchers said.

“We’re studying this radioactive glow from the Big Bang, and we’re trying to investigate the origin, and the content, and the fate of the entire universe,” said university physics professor Clement Pryke.

The station has up to 200 residents during the summer and only operates with a skeleton crew in the winter, said Peter West, a spokesman for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs.

“Most of the experiments there are very sophisticated and they’re very important to science, but they won’t necessarily turn into a new product or a new way of doing things,” West said. “That people are willing to give up so much of their lives to be sure that science goes on says a lot about all of them, including Robert.”

While working on the telescope, Schwarz spends 9.5 months of the year at the station before heading home to Germany for the winter. He said that while he’ll be sad to leave his work, he’s looking forward to a warm summer.

“We have a saying in German, it’s like, ‘with a laughing and a crying eye.’ So, yeah some aspects will be sad, I mean, it was nine years of my life I spent on it,” Schwarz said. “But on the other side, it’s also a good time to take a break and catch up with some summer.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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