Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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17 February 2003

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Goodbye South Pole

McMurdo Diary, December 16 (originally posted this day)

When leaving Pole it always helps to cross ones fingers. You need to clean
your room, pack your bags, leave your "hold" luggage at one of the (outdoor)
station baggage collection points, and report for a briefing at 9am. The
first flight from McMurdo usually is due to leave about 9:15am, and it is
only then that you have any idea whether you are going to get away from Pole
that day, or whether the flight has been delayed or cancelled, forcing you
to wait out a day, now without half your luggage, or your bed linen.
Fortunately for us we had an "off-deck" from McMurdo, which meant our flight
would arrive in about 3 hours, and depart less than hour later. So we were
go!

I took the opportunity to have a last wander around Pole, in particular
poking my head into all the astronomical experiments going on in the Dark
Sector. I hadn't really done more than a superficial inspection over the
past week, so it was now or never! There really is some impressive
machinery for astrophysics now. DASI, measuring the cosmic microwave
background anisotropy with unprecedented accuracy, was actually churning
away, taking data automatically. There was a ladder which could be climbed
up to peer into its innards, with a large notice at the top warning one not
to go any further if you didn't want to get your head chopped off! The
telescope regularly switches position on the sky, and it is as well not to
be in its way when it does! VIPER, a second large telescope in the MAPO
building, where Paolo is going to be spending the winter, was not in use, so
it was possible to look a little more closely into it. There is a plan to
change the instrumentation mid-winter, and having seem how difficult the
task is even in summer, I don't envy Paolo, and Alan Day one of the other
winter over astronomers, who will have this task. Alan actually hails from
Narrabri, and is one of the cryogenic experts with the Australia Telescope,
but is spending a year at Pole. He is the third Australian to work in the
Dark Sector over winter in the past 3 years. Wilfred Walsh, a former UNSW
PhD student, worked on the AST/RO sub-mm telescope last year, and Ben
Reddall, another Australia Telescope cryogenics expert was here two years
ago. The Dark Sector is in fact a rather cosmopolitan place despite its
isolation from the rest of the world - 5 nationalities will be represented
from the 6 winter-over scientists, with Germany the dominant nation!
Antarctica truly is an international place!

Another former UNSW face to show up at Pole was Thomas Nikola. He worked in
our group about 4 years ago on the MANIAC mid-infrared camera project, but
when the money unfortunately ran out on that project he moved to Cornell
University in the States, where he is now doing very nicely. Thomas was on
a scouting mission to the Pole. The group he's in has a sub-millimetre
Fabry-Perot interferometer they'd like to put on the AST/RO telescope, and
Thomas's job was to come to Pole and work out what needed to be done to make
this possible. The Cornell group plan to be back next year for this rather
challenging experiment, which will involve setting up some rather delicate
instrumentation outside, with the telescope, rather than inside, where most
of the sub-mm instrumentation goes. Some astronomers do like a challenge!

The weather was deteoriating for my last day at Pole. The wind had picked up
to nearly 15 knots, and a ice-haze/cloud was blanketing the sky. It did
finally produce an ice halo though! A beautiful ice-halo circling the Sun.
Ice halos are separated from the Sun by ~21 degrees, and we could see a
perfect circle - proof indeed that we were nearing the solstice, if proof
were ever needed (when the Sun peaks at 23 degrees above the horizon).

Before leaving Pole we heard that the off-deck from Christchurch hadn't in
fact made it off the ground, which means there is no plane to take us out of
here yet. So we've now got our fingers crossed for its off-deck tomorrow,
so that we can head out of here on Wednesday. So I've a day to fill in
McMurdo tomorrow!

Michael

I'm going to sleep

17 Dec 02 - by Paolo G. Calisse

today began amazingly late respect to the rest of my summer trip to the Pole. My roommate, Andy (I think - never got a good feeling with the English names...) revealed to be one of the most silent person and, altough he had to pass very close to my room to exit, I never awaken up.

It was so late that the breakfast was, actually, my lunch. After that I meet again Andrew that given me a lift to the Boomerang base. There I spent a couple of hour in the barn. People was pretty busy with a faulty gyroscope (see picture), but I would been able to climb up to the whole structure up to the upper hook, while other people was working hard instead of taking pictures like me.

Silvia was away feeling into a crevasse (she was at the training course), so that I have been entertained again by Paolo and also by Andrea and Armando. Paolo and Andrea are "Fiorentini Doc", that doesn't stand, in this case, for Doctor, but for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata", that sound like "Controlled Area of Origin", that qualification that in Italy only good wines or some kind of particular food get when they are produced in the area where their traditional recipe was born. And I really enjoied to listen to their florence accent, for that deep irony that express.

The day went away quicly and I got back soon to do some more remaining duties.A night at the coffee concluded it.

Yes, I know, this diary entry doesn't work, is neither funny or interesting. But I have to confess that I am bloody tired tonight and with not very much wishes to continue to think about it. I hope you understand. My apologies. Good night.... zzzzzzzzzzz

Grounded in McMurdo

McMurdo Diary, Tuesday Dec 17th

The South Pole Diaries have a tendency to turn into something of a
travelogue once the expeditioner reaches McMurdo. This is because the job
is done and all you are doing is waiting around for the plane to take you
out of here, and have to fill you time looking for things you are allowed to
do. There is plenty of spectacular scenery around - the Royal Society Range
is quite a sight across frozen McMurdo Sound from the windows of the Crary
Lab (the science lab where all the beakers pass the time doing e-mail). But
you aren't actually allowed to do much in McMurdo aside from stay on base.
They don't want anyone falling in crevasses!

You can head to Scott Base without getting permission though, the Kiwi
station 4 km away, and the other side of Observation Hill (and a stiff climb
to get to on the dirt road, though a good run). At Scott Base is the TAE
Hut (Trans-Antarctic Expedition Hut), erected by Edmund Hillary (yes, the
same Hillary who climbed Everest) in 1957 as part of the first expedition to
cross the continent. This was the feat Shackleton tried and failed in
1914-1916, and was finally achieved by Fuchs from the UK in the IGY -
Hillary's job was to lay supply depots all the way to Pole, using farm
tractors! His expedition became the third to reach Pole overland, and
Fuchs' the fourth, coming in from the Weddell Sea. Here they both met the
Americans who had flown in, but stayed on the build the first Pole Station.
The Hut is now a museum at Scott Base, left with artefacts from the original
expedition, and dominated by a painting of the Southern Alps of NZ, and two
pictures of a very much younger Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip! There
is also a visitor book, place there soon after the hut was opened as a
museum in 94. I happened to visit in Feb that year, on my way back from my
first trip to Pole, and signed my name on its second page. Nine years later
the visitors book is nearly full, and so I will be among the last to sign it
too! My first signing is still there, but someone obviously dropped the
book in water in the first few years, so the ink has run from all the early
signatories!

Looking at the pattern of signatories is interesting too; usually every 4 or
5 days someone signs, generally from somewhere in the US or NZ. But then
there are days with 3 or 4 pages filled, and names from all over the world -
a tourist ship has visited. Then normal life prevails until the next year
and the next visit. Not too many tourists get to the Ross Sea, being more
inaccessible than the Weddell Sea below South America, but they do come.
And the shops at McMurdo and Scott Base do a roaring trade in souvenirs when
they do!

Today was a glorious day at McMurdo, scattered cloud, 12 below and a
stiffish breeze. The forecast was good too. So we were all rather
disappointed in the Kiwis when we heard the flight south from Christchurch
was cancelled - due to bad weather! It means another day in McMurdo, and a
growing crowd of people waiting to get off the continent before Xmas. We're
now up to 60 on my flight - so its going to be a cosy affair when we finally
do fly!

Michael

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