Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Contact!

Traditionally a day of rest, Sunday is observed at Dome C simply by things going a bit more slowly than usual. At 3 am the Twin Otter that had arrived yesterday decided to leave, and of course woke everyone up in the process. There are certain disadvantages associated with living next to an airport, especially when the taxi-way comes more or less up to your door.

We don't seem to be getting any emails at the moment; maybe the email system has frozen or perhaps everyone has just forgotten about us.

This morning we took our first guest on a guided tour of the AASTINO. Marianne is French electrician who is in charge of wiring up the power plant for the new Concordia Station. She has previously spent a winter at the French coastal station of Dumont d'Urville as a geotechnician, and is of the opinion that astronomers are a little bit crazy. (This impression seems to have been formed during her undergraduate days with Eric Fossat's group in Nice.) I fear her tour of the AASTINO did little to alter that view although, like everyone who knows something about power generation, she could not help but be impressed with our Stirling engines. The AASTINO was a toasty +5C when we arrived, and I took the opportunity to turn on the second fan heater so it will be very comfortable by this afternoon.

Lunch was prosciutto and melon, prawns and avocado, fish with tomato and herbs, and some excellent pesto. After lunch Anna and I headed out to the AASTINO to see what we could get working. We had an amazingly successful afternoon, which included logging on to the AASTINO's "supervisor" computer, getting the Iridium satellite link to work, and generally starting to explore the mystery of why the AASTINO stopped talking to us last July 1.

Although we've still got a lot to do, it appears that there was some kind of "event" on July 1 during which a lot of bad things happened. Despite this, much of the AASTINO seems to have kept running until August 19, at which point it just sort of lost track of time. Over the next few days we'll piece together the clues and reconstruct the fateful last days of the AASTINO.

With the Iridium phone working we were able to log on the computer at the University of NSW and send some email messages out directly. I noted with some alarm the volume of mail accumulating in my Inbox, but the link is too slow for me to look at it properly.

The AASTINO was so warm by late afternoon that we had to turn one of the heaters off. It's great to have a comfortable working environment. The Eurotherm temperature controller has now stopped saying "EEErr" and now says 18C or so, after I entered the magic password it had been waiting for. (The password is "2", by the way, just in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.)

I have an acid burn on one of my fingertips which is not so much painful as annoying, especially as now, in retrospect, I can think of several better ways I could have determined whether the pool of liquid under the cracked batteries yesterday was battery acid than by just dipping my finger in it and seeing if it hurt.

The World Cup Rugby is attracting quite a bit of interest here. This morning I was congratulated on Australia's victory in the semi-finals so enthusiastically that one might have thought I had personally trained the entire team. In contrast there were a few long faces at dinner, as the French absorbed their semi-finals defeat at the hands of their traditional rivals in just about everything.

Today's Twin Otter brought in Jean-Louis, master chef extraordinaire. With his arrival the meals can be expected to change from the outstanding to the simply sublime.

John

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