Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Saturday, November 30, 2002

1. A little Italian heading South...

1 Dec 2002 - Paolo G. Calisse, Christchurch, NZ

This summer will be a real milestone in the involvment in Antarctica of the Astrophysics Department of UNSW, if not the most important campaign since the beginning of our activity down there.

As in the last two years, we will be active in two different stations: South Pole, the big, old station at 90 degree of Latitude South , and Dome C, the Italian/French (French/Italian for Tony and a few others...) station under construction on one of the top of the icecap. Don't you know about Dome C? Please go to http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/~pcalisse/ and click on "Dome Concordia" on the right.

On the 25th of November about 4 tons of material, namely the AASTINO (Automated Astrophysical Site Testing INfrared Observatory), left UNSW after a couple of years of preparation, heading to Hobart to be loaded on board of the French Icebreaker Astrolabe going in a matter of days to Dumont D'Urville, the French Station lying on the sector of the Antarctic Coast in front of Tasmania. After arrival, they will be tranferred to Dome C, 1200 Km away, on board of the French traverse in about 10 days.

John Storey, Jon Lawrence and Tony Travouillon will then get to Concordia Station to assemble all the systems in about a month. Two stirling engines will produce enough power and heat to run the system, automatically, for all the winter (the station is still operated only in summer). An Iridium phone will allow us to connect to check the status of the various subsystem and receive data almost in real time.

The SUMMIT, an instrument devoted to the measurement of sky opacity and stability at a 350 microns wavelength, and the SODAR, an acoustic radar measuring the turbulence of the atmosphere in the boundary layer, are expected to acquire data thorugh all the year. If the system will work, this will be a tremendous achievement as it will supply an important input to people interested in developing infrared and submillimeter astronomy at Dome C, expected to be one of the best, if not the best, site of the world for this kind of astronomy.

And... what about me?

Actually, until 2 months ago I was expected to go to Dome C, as I did in the last two years., to work around the AASTO. Meanwhile Giles Novak, from Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, was looking for a winterover to look after the VIPER telescope at South Pole. I applied and after some time I received the news that I got the position. So, unless the psychologist will not find me enough crazy to do it in the next few weeks, I should spend the next 330 days in Antarctica, with the important exception of the Christmas holyday, when I will get back to Sydney to see my partner and my son Leonardo.

So, now I'm in Christchurch, waiting for tomorrow flight to McMurdo, and collecting my EWG (Extreme Weather Gears), ready to go.

It is my deadly project to bother you enough, in the next months, with my considerations about wintering over at South Pole. I'm very curious to see which is the itinerary that my mind will follow during this period. This is my eighth travel to Antarctica, but I've never been down there for the winter. There will be my best day, my worst day, a lot of status of minds that I can't actually foresee, and I look with a lot of curiosity to the day when I will watch the last flight taking off from the Station.

Actually, in 1999 I experienced already that event, except that I was one of the persons getting *in* the aircraft, and not one of the group left down. But I remember that, when I asked to the people if they were happy or sad at the perspective, just in front of the aircraft, one of them smiled to me and said that they were just waiting the moment the aircraft was leaving to open some bottle of Champagne.

There has been lots of people wintering over, lots of people performing by far more achieving activities (like remaining at home and look at the winterover's sons...). And when I read what was the polar exploration only 100 years ago, I wonder if I can still look at it as to something really achieving. But I have a partner and a 7 years old kid left home, and while I do not pretend you to look at this like as an extraordinary thing, for me it will be a *very* extraordinary event. For a little person born from a sunny country, to spend 6 month of his life in the darkness, surrounded only by the ice it will be as a strange, irripetible event. I look to your feedback as well to keep me happy!

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