The PLATO Dome A Site-Testing Observatory: Instrumentation and First Results
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The PLATeau Observatory (PLATO) is an automated self-powered astrophysical observatory that was deployed to Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau, in 2008 January. PLATO consists of a suite of site-testing instruments designed to quantify the benefits of the Dome A site for astronomy, and science instruments designed to take advantage of the unique observing conditions. Instruments include CSTAR, an array of optical telescopes for transient astronomy; Gattini, an instrument to measure the optical sky brightness and cloud cover statistics; DASLE, an experiment to measure the statistics of the meteorological conditions within the near-surface layer; Pre-HEAT, a submillimeter tipping radiometer measuring the atmospheric transmission and water vapor content and performing spectral line imaging of the Galactic plane; and Snodar, an acoustic radar designed to measure turbulence within the near-surface layer. PLATO has run completely unattended and collected data throughout the winter 2008 season. Here we present a detailed description of the PLATO instrument suite and preliminary results obtained from the first season of operation. 2009. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. All rights reserved.