CARA Science:
Infrared Research

After the Big Bang, the dominant agent for evolution in the universe has been the birth and death of stars. The continuing enrichment of the interstellar medium of galaxies by the products of nucleosynthesis in stars is responsible for the current elemental abundances of our galaxy and our solar system. They, in turn, determine the nature of the physical processes occurring in the universe today and set the stage for the emergence of life. To understand the life cycle of stars, particularly the birth of stars and the nature of star formation in the early universe, infrared measurements are essential. The dense interstellar clouds where stars are born are opaque to visible light. Infrared light readily penetrates the clouds, allowing astronomers to directly observe the thermal emission from newborn stars, circumstellar nebulae, and the clouds themselves. Because light from the early universe is shifted toward longer wavelengths by the relativistic expansion of space, the infrared also provides a window into the time when stars and galaxies first formed.

Because thermal backgrounds from telescopes at temperate sites swamp the astrophysical signal, it is difficult to study the 3-5 micron band from the ground. For broadband studies, the thermal background simply saturates the detectors. Placing a large-format 3-5 micron camera at the South Pole overcomes this problem. Because the site is so cold (typical wintertime temperatures are -80 to -100 F), the background in the thermal IR is 20 - 50 times lower than at temperate sites. This enormous advantage in sensitivity allows small telescopes at the South Pole to outperform much larger telescopes at temperate sites.

CARA infrared instruments include:

Special page on IR results.

Site characterization information.