That's fascinating! I've heard that some parts of Antarctica may possibly be even more conducive to visual observation of extremely low magnitude stars (Dome C, Dome A, Ridge A). I wonder if either there or at other locations, with much younger eyes (the story related earlier, about children being able to view the Galilean moons of Jupiter unaided, is fascinating), even dimmer stars than Mag 8.5 could be glimpsed?
Writing in the Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 2005, Karim Agabi et al. discuss the suitability of the site for astronomy in terms of the seeing. They determined the median seeing (measured with a Differential Image Motion Monitor placed on top of an 8.5 metres (28 ft) high tower) to be 1.3±0.8 arcseconds. This is significantly worse than most major observatory sites, but similar to other observatories in Antarctica. However, they found (using balloons) that 87% of turbulence was below 36 meters. A telescope built on a tower could rise above this "boundary layer" and achieve excellent seeing. The boundary layer is 200 metres (660 ft) at the South Pole and may be as low as 20 metres (66 ft) at Dome A.
In an earlier (2004) paper, Lawrence et al. considered the site and concluded that "Dome C is the best ground-based site to develop a new astronomical observatory". This team measured superior seeing of 0.27 arcseconds, twice as small as at Mauna Kea Observatory. This figure was taken with an instrument insensitive to near-ground turbulence and so it is comparable to the 0.35 arcseconds Agabi et al. measured for "free atmospheric seeing".
Ridge A was identified by a team of Australian and American scientists searching for the best observatory spot in the world. The team leader described the site as "so calm there's almost no wind or weather there at all." Ridge A is a low ridge of ice and has been estimated to have very low disturbances to visibility, such as thick atmospheric boundary layer, amount of water vapour and numerous others.
The site represents the "Eye of the Storm", whereby winds flowing off Antarctica in all directions appear to start from a point at Ridge A, where winds are at their calmest. It is also the site of a vortex in which swirling stratospheric winds high up and calm air at ground level combine to make it a place for viewing into space that is three times clearer than any other location on Earth.
Researchers[who?] on the project suggested that photographs taken through a telescope at Ridge A could be nearly as good as those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Despite the difficult conditions on Antarctica and the remote location of Ridge A, construction costs for an observatory there that could match the Hubble telescope could be built at a fraction of the cost of sending Hubble into space.