Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Friday, November 21, 2003

Here comes the sun

Today the weather was absolutely stunning, reaching up to almost -30 C at lunchtime. However, the wonderful thing was the complete lack of wind. In these conditions, with the sun beating down, it actually feels quite warm. It's possible to walk around outside without any head covering or gloves, just wearing a skivvy and jeans - at least for a few minutes - and to do simple tasks. However it's still best not to touch any metal surfaces with bare hands!

Arriving at the AASTINO mid-morning I found the temperature inside to be a rather uncomfortable +25C, and had to open the doors to let it cool down. It is amazing what a difference the wind makes. Dome C is remarkable in that, despite being the highest point for 1,000 km or so, it often has absolutely no wind. This of course is one of the things that makes it such a fabulous site for astronomy.

With the camping tent now standing proudly beside the AASTINO it was possible to bring across from my sleeping tent the suitcases that had caused such consternation at Qantas check-in last week, and to unpack the various goodies contained therein.

One such item was a "head magnifier", which I had bought at Jaycar Electronics just before leaving Sydney. Although the name implies that it might be something that gives you a swelled head, it is in fact a pair of magnifying spectacles that one can wear and thereby compensate for the ravages of time and dissipated living on one's eyesight. It's super for electronics work - a small connector is magnified to something the size of an office block, with the result that even I can see what I'm doing wrong.

In the morning Gerhard arrived accompanied by the Kaesbohrer bulldozer, a large sled and the various components of his precipitation monitor. He and two of the Station crew spent an hour or so setting up a level base for it, roughly 5 metres from the AASTINO.

Wiring up the precipitation monitor offered a great opportunity to bring out some of the weapons of MASS destruction that we have in the AASTINO. If George Bush knew about the angle grinders, percussion drills and high power machine tools we have here there'd be a cruise missile through the side of the AASTINO before you could say "Donald Rumsfeld". (It's just as well these email diary entries go out via Inmarsat, which of course the CIA never monitors. It is pure coincidence that Pine Gap is at the same longitude as the Inmarsat we are using. Really.)

(To our non-technical readers: I should apologise for the appalling pun in the previous paragraph. The MASS (multi-aperture scintillation sensor) is one of the instruments we'll be installing in January.)

On this case occasion I used a large hole-saw to rip into the AASTINO, and now Gerhard's instrument is fully wired up to our power system. He will use his own data acquisition system through the summer and when Jon, Tony and Colin arrive in January they will swap his instrument over to our Supervisor computer.

The real work today was done by Anna who, using some scripts supplied by Michael A., has been decoding the logfiles that tell us about the final hours of the AASTINO when it shut down in July. There are a lot of data to sift through, but it is already clear that a very complicated series of events unfolded. However, what precipitated the failure is still a mystery. We are finding that in the space of just 24 hours almost all of our systems failed, one by one. It is too much of a coincidence to imagine that these things all happened independently, yet it is hard so piece together a plausible causal chain. By the end of tomorrow, World Cup Rugby permitting, we should have some really good theories.

Today I was rostered to do the washing up, which is something we all take turns in here. Washing up after 35 people have made the most of Jean-Louis' five-course meals may not sound an attractive prospect, but in fact it is quite fun. Mainly you get to use the industrial strength dishwasher, and play with the high quality commercial cooking implements that are the envy of every amateur chef on the Station - myself included.

I forgot to mention that yesterday the Doctor and the Station Manager suddenly arrived announced at the AASTINO on a snowmobile. My immediate thought was that I had not sufficiently faked my answers on the psychological test we did a few days ago, and that I was about to be escorted to the crypt until an Twin Otter could take me to where I posed no further threat to the Station. However, it turned out they just wanted to take some photos of us, for publication in an article in a Rome magazine.

The camping tent is proving to very useful and, despite being completely unheated, is remarkably warm. By late afternoon today the temperature inside was +2 C. It is simply amazing how effective a basic, uninsulated camping tent is in this rarefied atmosphere, heated only by the one kilowatt per square meter that the sun provides. (Come to think of it, that's nearly 20 kW, so I suppose it's not surprising it gets quite cosy!)

John

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