Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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04 December 2003

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

You won't see me

At least, not for a while. I guess I didn't really expect to wake up to the sound of a pair of Pratt and Whitney turboprops, and I was not to be disappointed. However, apparently the weather on the coast is improving, and the plan is for us to fly to Terra Nova Bay tomorrow, then step straight onto a Hercules and off to Christchurch.

Anna didn't appear this morning until about 10 am, which had me worried that she may have gone into hibernation. (In fact, she'd been working late last night looking at engine log files.) We've only borrowed Anna from the Anglo Australian Observatory for three weeks, and we're supposed to give her back soon.

I spent most of the morning writing a report for the Dome C Steering Committee, the French and Italian folks by whose good graces we are currently here. We then spent a good bit more time going through engine log files, each time getting a better and better understanding of what actually happened on July 1, but not yet being able to decide if Nancy stopped and the batteries immediately froze, or if the batteries froze and then Nancy immediately stopped.

The highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of the tractor-train traverse from Dumont d'Urville (curiously called the "raid" by both the French and Italians; apparently this has none of the connotations of sacking and pillaging it does in English). This is the first of three traverses that will arrive this summer, and has taken just over 12 days of travelling to get here from the coast.

Each traverse brings in around 150 tonnes of equipment and supplies, only a very small fraction of which is "escargot". A Kaessboehrer bulldozer travels ahead of the group, creating a smooth path for the others to follow. The others are big Caterpillar "Challenger" bulldozers, pulling huge sleds piled high with containers, cranes, fuel, and other supplies. There is essentially no limit to the size and weight of things that can be brought in on the traverse, which is yet another reason why Dome C is potentially such an attractive site for the construction of major astronomical facilities. One could easily picture an 8-metre diameter telescope mirror sitting on one of those sleds.

The arrival of the traverse was exactly like one would expect when the circus comes to town in a small village. Most of the station turned out to greet the new arrivals, and there was much cheering and hugging and kissing. Then followed lots of photographs, like Japanese tourists at the Opera House, after which the assorted vehicles of the traverse organised a sort of a trailer park for themselves. They'll stay here just a couple of days, then head back to Dumont d'Urville.

The sky remains lightly overcast, with the sun occasionally breaking through with its cheery warmth. While these conditions may not seem conducive to the best astronomy, it's a good bet that at sub-millimetre wavelengths (in between infrared and microwave wavelengths) the sky is actually extremely transparent. A quick look at last week's data from our sub-millimetre instrument, Summit, confirms that even now in summer we are experiencing better conditions than any other site averages on their best 25% of days.


Just before dinner I took a last snowmobile ride out to the AASTINO to check that everything is still OK. Indeed it is; the computer and Summit are working beautifully and, even with the sky overcast and the sun behind the solar panels, the sun is happily powering all our equipment and still managing to (just) charge the battery at 0.2 amps.

The evening concluded with a beautiful display of sun dogs (parhelia), as the clouds start to disappear and the sun sinks lower towards the horizon. Anna got some excellent photos of this very beautiful phenomenon.

Best of all, the Jet-A1 worked like a treat at getting the contact adhesive off my gloves. To be fair, they now stink to high heaven of jet fuel, but I will leave them overnight close to the heater (taking due account of the flash point of jet fuel) and with luck the smell will wear off.

And, with luck, the next diary entry will be sent to you from Terra Nova Bay, or even Christchurch.

John

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