Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia

Research Article

Science Programs for a 2-m Class Telescope at Dome C, Antarctica: PILOT, the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope

M. G. Burtona1 c1, J. S. Lawrencea1, M. C. B. Ashleya1, J. A. Baileya2a3, C. Blakea1, T. R. Beddinga4, J. Bland-Hawthorna2, I. A. Bonda5, K. Glazebrooka6, M. G. Hidasa1, G. Lewisa4, S. N. Longmorea1, S. T. Maddisona7, S. Mattilaa8, V. Miniera9, S. D. Rydera2, R. Sharpa2, C. H. Smitha10, J. W. V. Storeya1, C. G. Tinneya2, P. Tuthilla4, A. J. Walsha1, W. Walsha1, M. Whitinga1, T. Wonga1a11, D. Woodsa1 and P. C. M. Yocka12

a1 School of Physics, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia

a2 Anglo Australian Observatory, Epping NSW 1710, Australia

a3 Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie University, Sydney NSW 2109, Australia

a4 University of Sydney, Sydney NSW 2006, Australia

a5 Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

a6 John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA

a7 Swinburne University, Melbourne VIC 3122, Australia

a8 Stockholm Observatory, Stockholm, Sweden

a9 CEA Centre d'Etudes de Saclay, Paris, France

a10 Electro Optics Systems, Queanbeyan NSW 2620, Australia

a11 CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility, Epping NSW 1710, Australia

a12 University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


The cold, dry, and stable air above the summits of the Antarctic plateau provides the best ground-based observing conditions from optical to sub-millimetre wavelengths to be found on the Earth. Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope (PILOT) is a proposed 2 m telescope, to be built at Dome C in Antarctica, able to exploit these conditions for conducting astronomy at optical and infrared wavelengths. While PILOT is intended as a pathfinder towards the construction of future grand-design facilities, it will also be able to undertake a range of fundamental science investigations in its own right. This paper provides the performance specifications for PILOT, including its instrumentation. It then describes the kinds of projects that it could best conduct. These range from planetary science to the search for other solar systems, from star formation within the Galaxy to the star formation history of the Universe, and from gravitational lensing caused by exo-planets to that produced by the cosmic web of dark matter. PILOT would be particularly powerful for wide-field imaging at infrared wavelengths, achieving near diffraction-limited performance with simple tip–tilt wavefront correction. PILOT would also be capable of near diffraction-limited performance in the optical wavebands, as well be able to open new wavebands for regular ground-based observation, in the mid-IR from 17 to 40 μm and in the sub-millimetre at 200 μm.

(Received November 12 2004)

(Accepted April 12 2005)


  • telescopes;
  • site testing;
  • atmospheric effects;
  • techniques: high angular resolution;
  • stars: formation;
  • cosmology: observations


c1 Corresponding author. E-mail: